Bitter Melon Pork

I grew up in the Philippines being told that bitter melon is good for treating diseases like leukemia, so it was of little surprise to me when I came to the U.S. to hear that bitter melon was being studied as a potential treatment for HIV/AIDS, diabetes and even cancer. Though still  generally inconclusive, research seems to show that certain protein elements in bitter melon have preventive and healing effects on some health conditions.

Bitter melon, as its name suggests, has an uncommon, acquired taste.  Both the fruit and its leaves are used in Philippine and other Asian cuisines.  The secret in appreciating this underrated vegetable seems to be in combining it with other ingredients that bear a strong taste — either sweet or salty.  The Ilocano dish, Pinakbet, is never complete without bitter melon. The melon pleasantly complements the dish’s other vegetable ingredients like eggplant, squash, okra and long beans. The strong taste, in the case of Pinakbet, is the piquant and salty shrimp paste.  But shrimp paste is yet another of those ingredients that demand an acquired taste.

For this recipe, I use bitter melon as the lone vegetable, combining it with pork, and using Chinese black bean sauce as the ingredient with strong taste. Cooking the bitter melon with juicy pork enhances the flavor  of the dish, while mixing in the black bean sauce tempers the bitter taste in the melon.  Serving this recipe with steamed rice will bring about the perfect balance among the “contrasting” tastes in this dish.

INGREDIENTS

3 bitter melon fruits, seeded and sliced into 2-inch crescents

1 lb pork, cut into bite-sized pieces

3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1 medium-sized tomato, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

1/2 cup Chinese black bean sauce

2 tbsps olive oil

1/3 cup dried raisins (optional)

1 fresh egg (optional)

1/2 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

In a large wok, heat olive oil in medium-high heat

Add garlic and sauté until golden brown

Add onions and cook until tender

Add tomatoes and cook for another 1 minute

Add pork and stir-fry until they turn golden brown

Add black bean sauce, and, if using, raisins

Add bitter melon and stir-fry for 2 minutes, making sure they stay crisp

Add water

Crack the egg over the mixture and stir

Reduce heat and let simmer for about 2 minutes

Remove from heat

Serve with steamed rice

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