Some people shy away from bitter flavors. Others embrace them.
If you are in the latter category, this recipe is probably right up your alley. The principal ingredient is bitter melon, which, as the name suggests, is rather bitter.
Bitter melon is popular throughout Asia. It appears to have originated in the Indian subcontinent, where it is known as karela. From there, it made its way to China, the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere.
This recipe is Okinawan in origin. In Okinawa, bitter melon is know as goya, and this dish is called goya no miso chanpuru, which translates more or less to “bitter melon miso stir-fry.” The recipe is a simplified variation of one from Elizabeth Andoh, an American chef who has lived in Japan since 1967.
About 1-pound bitter melon, diced (see below)
1 yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
10-12 chunks frozen kabocha
12-oz extra firm tofu, cubed
Splash of cooking sake or mirin
3 tablespoons yellow miso
¾ to 1 cup of water
Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok on medium heat.
Split the bitter melon down the middle, Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and inner white pith (a grapefruit spoon works especially well for this). Cut the bitter melon into half-moons, about half an inch thick.
Toss the diced bitter melon and onion in the skillet and cook until they both start to soften, about 10 minutes. Stir regularly.
Add the tofu and the kabocha along with a splash of cooking sake or mirin to help prevent sticking. Continue to cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring regularly.
A quick word on the kabocha: I use frozen kabocha for the simple reason fresh kabocha can be something of a hassle to work with. If you choose to go with fresh, I commend you. Just be sure to adjust the cooking times to make sure the kabocha cooks through.
Meanwhile, mix the miso, sugar and water in a small bowl. Place the bowl in the microwave and heat at 30 seconds intervals until the mixture can be easily whisked together into a consistent, slightly creamy sauce.
Pour the mixture into the skillet with the rest of the ingredients and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, still stirring regularly.
Remove the skillet from heat and allow to rest for about 5 minutes.
Serve the bitter melon miso stir-fry over rice, ideally with some green tea or, if you are concerned about caffeine, a nice cup of mugicha (barley tea). And then there's beer. There is just something magical about the combination of bitter melon and beer.