This brilliant green vegetable is called bitter melon (clearly because it`s BITTER) in English, or gouya (ゴーヤ) or nigauri in Japanese. I`m not sure if American or European dishes have this vegetable in their menus, but bitter melon is one of common vegetables in Asia. In Japan, bitter melon is one of those seasonal food and usually available in summer, except for Okinawa region which is considered as semi-tropical place and thus, bitter melon is available almost throughout the year (errr....if you happen to be Japanese, do let me know if this isn`t the correct fact).
So, back to the cooking. I usually stir-fry bitter melon with shrimp and chili, of course, as that`s how people in Indonesia usually serve it .
But lately I`ve been feeling like trying something different. So I came up with bitter melon rings with shrimp and mushroom for fillers.
If you notice in the previous photo, the bitter melon is cut into thin half circles. Why? Because that way is much easier to clean the white bitter (really bitter!) layers inside it. I was not sure I could clean the bitter layer if I want to cut it into rings. So what I did is, I cut it like 4-5 cm length, then I poke in my knife carefully to scrape out the white layer. I also used tea spoon for this.
After it`s clean, I cut it into 2 cm thick rings for these 2 reasons:
1. I was going to deep fry the ring with filler, so I want my filler to get properly cooked (it contains raw shrimp and egg) without overcooking the bitter melon.
2. This thickness gives a "bearable" level of bitterness for me. If you want more bitter rings, go for bigger slices, but remember about your fillers. But if you prefer milder taste, make them smaller. The downside is, it`s probably a bit difficult for thin rings to hold the fillers inside. You can just give it a try, though.
Then, for the fillers, I used:
- raw shrimp, minced
- fried garlic (I used to use raw garlic for fillers, but I found that using fried ones gave better taste)
- fried tofu, chopped
- mushroom, "head" part, chopped (I used the "body" part for sauce)
- whole egg
- corn starch
How to fill and fry the rings:
- Place the rings on a plate or chopping board. It can be anything, as long as it is flat.
- Using teaspoon, place a portion of filler inside the ring (make sure to that the fillers hold nicely inside it)
- Heat the oil for deep-frying
- Using your frying spatula, carefully bring the filled rings into the frying pan. Once the ring and the filler go safely inside the hot oil, they won`t break apart.
- Fry for 3 minutes each side.
Now, the sauce. I figured that eating only the fried bitter melon, even with the fillers, is still too challenging for me. So, I prepared sweet-salty-hot sauce to make the bitterness a little bit milder.
For the sauce:
- Mushroom stem, cut into long slices then brown them with olive oil
- After the mushroom is getting browned, add chili
- Add soybean sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil
- Add water and simmer it (adjust the consistency to your preference)
Finally, serve the rings with the sauce.
I could taste the bitterness of the ring and savoriness and sweetness of the filler and the sauce blending nicely in my mouth. Yummmmm...!