Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. ~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Bitter melon, also called bitter gourd, is a green-colored, tropical fruit with a waxy skin. Its slightly bitter taste can be discouraging to some but recipes usually include ingredients and sauces to offset the sharpness, resulting in a rather unique taste. Recently an old friend, J, mentioned that one of her favorite childhood dishes was Pork Ribs with Black Beans and Bitter Melon. I had not eaten it myself since leaving home many years ago. Braised in savory sauces till tender, the mere thought of it brought back memories of my youth. It was J’s idea to share this recipe. Now to be sure, J is an excellent chef with a discerning palette herself, and an expressive writer to boot. However, on this occasion she was too modest to write about this dish herself. Hence here I am, the stand-in.
- Choose melons that are light green in color, firm to the touch with wide ridges. Darker melons with narrow ridges are younger and tend to be more bitter.
- There is no need to peel the skin of the melon. A rinse to remove any debris is sufficient.
- To remove some of the bitterness from the melon, soak the cut pieces in salt water for about 30 minutes, then drain and gently squeeze dry. This is an optional step but recommended if you are not used to the taste. Alternatively, you can blanch it in boiling water for about 3 minutes just before cooking.
- Fermented black bean paste can be found in Asian grocery stores. Alternatively, rinse and coarsely chop fermented black soybeans (2 Tbsp of fermented black soybeans for 1 Tbsp of fermented black bean paste). Note that these are not the same as regular dried black beans.
- Chilli padi (bird’s eye chilli), a small but spicy variety, is often added when this dish is prepared in South-East Asia, less so in northern regions such as Philippines or China. Just omit if you prefer a non-spicy version.
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- ½ lb pork ribs, cut into 1" pieces
- 1 bitter melon, rinsed to remove debris
- 1 Tbsp fermented black bean paste
- 1 Tbsp mirin wine
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1" ginger, grated
- 1 chilli padi/bird's eye chilli, finely chopped (optional)
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp light soy sauce
- ½ tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp corn starch, dissolved in 3 Tbsp water
- Cut bitter melon lengthwise into half. Spoon out the white pith in the middle and discard. Cut into ½" thick pieces. Soak in salt water for 30 mins and drain.
- At the same time, soak the fermented black bean paste in the rice wine for 30 mins. Once ready, drain and set aside.
- Heat 2 Tbsp of oil in a wok or pan. Lightly fry the pork ribs for 2-3 minutes and the bitter melon for 1 min. Set both aside.
- Reserve 1 Tbsp of oil in the wok. Add garlic and ginger and stir fry till fragrant. Add black beans and ½ the chilli (if using) and stir fry for 1 minute.
- Stir in the chicken stock, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil. Bring to a boil.
- Add the pork ribs and simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. The pork ribs should be quite tender.
- Add the bitter melon, mix well and simmer for 1-2 minutes till melon is slightly softened. For crunchier bitter melon, simmer for for just 1 minute.
- Lastly, add corn starch dissolved in 3 Tbsp water. Mix well to thicken. Serve warm.
Try out another homey dish with a unique taste, Foochow Ang Chow Chicken 红糟鸡.
Braised Pork Belly 扣肉 is a heartening and flavorful stewed in asian sauces and spices.
Pork ribs are also great in soups, as in this warming Pork Rib Soup.