Bit­ter melon pro­vides sur­pris­ingly tasty treats with added nutri­tion

Eaten raw by it­self, bit­ter melon is def­i­nitely an ac­quired taste, but when it’s pre­pared prop­erly with the cor­rect sea­son­ing and in­gre­di­ents, it loses its sharp flavour and compliments a va­ri­ety of Viet­namese dishes.

Outlook - - FOOD - By Haø Nguyeãn and Coâng Bình

For hun­dreds of years, Viet­namese have used bit­ter melon as a part of their daily nu­tri­tious diet and as a medic­i­nal in­gre­di­ent to treat ail­ments, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing sum­mer.

Like peo­ple in Ja­pan, China and In­dia, the Viet­namese have cooked dif­fer­ent dishes from this fruit.

My rel­a­tive Nguyeãn An Vinh from the Taây Nguyeân (Cen­tral High­lands) prov­ince of Ñaék Laék, re­cently vis­ited my home in Haø Noäi, ask­ing me to cook him a dish of bit­ter melon.

"Since I moved to Ñaék Laék in 2009, I've had a crav­ing for the dish," Vinh told me.

I woke up early in the morn­ing to buy five or­ganic bit­ter melons, 300 grams of minced pork, onions, co­rian­der, wood ears and field mush­rooms to cook möôùp ñaéng nhoài thòt (bit­ter melons stuffed with pork and other above-men­tioned in­gre­di­ents).

First I soaked the wood ears and mush­rooms in wa­ter for half an hour. Then I washed them clean, cut them into pieces and mixed with the meat, fish sauce and onion.

I cut each bit­ter melon into four pieces, leav­ing their in­sides as they were and soaked them in light salt­wa­ter for 20 min­utes to re­duce their bit­ter taste. Then I stuffed the mix­tures into each fruit.

Vinh joined me to place the food into a pot of boil­ing wa­ter.

"I still re­mem­ber that we have to put it in the pot with a spoon­ful of soya sauce and cook it for 20 min­utes. Am I right?" he asked me. I agreed with him. When the food was boil­ing, it em­anated a very spe­cial fra-

"What I liked most was the light bit­ter taste of the dish com­pared to its orig­i­nal flavour, which was ex­tremely bit­ter."

grance, mak­ing our mouths wa­ter.

Vinh helped me to put sev­eral spices into the pot and then put co­rian­der leaves into a big bowl.

"We should eat it hot," he re­minded me.

When we be­gan eat­ing, Vinh said he was re­ally en­joy­ing the dish.

"What I liked most was the light bit­ter taste of the dish com­pared to with its orig­i­nal flavour, which was much bit­ter," said Vinh.

He asked me to cook other dishes such as stir-fried bit­ter melon with egg in the next meal dur­ing his one-week stay in the cap­i­tal.

Cook­ing this dish was much eas­ier. I cleaned two fruits, cut them into thin pieces then stir-fried them with dried onions and other spices for 5 to 6 min­utes un­til it was done to a turn. Then I put two eggs into the pan and stirred them quickly.

I added green onions over the hot food be­fore putting it into a plate.

Vinh told me that the dish looked very at­trac­tive be­cause of the green colour of the bit­ter melon and the yel­low yolk of the eggs.

He told me that this dish should also be eaten hot.

While en­joy­ing the dish, Vinh said he could never for­get bit­ter melon dishes cooked with other in­gre­di­ents by his mother.

Vinh's wife Buøi Thu Trang said she could not for­get how her mother-in-law used to make dried bit­ter melon tea which they of­ten drank dur­ing sum­mer to cool their bod­ies and pre­vent sun­stroke.

Trang said she still knew how to make the tea.

First, the fruit was sliced into thin pieces and dried com­pletely, she ex­plained.

"We should let it cool, pack it into a box, and then put in the re­frig­er­a­tor for later use. Mak­ing bit­ter

melon tea is the same as green tea. Each day one should drink 3 to 4 cups. It is good for health," said Trang.

I, my­self, can never for­get my grand­mother's dishes cooked with bit­ter melon. For veg­e­tar­i­ans, they were stir-fried with soya cheese and for non-veg­e­tar­i­ans there was salad mixed with salted and shred­ded pork, or chicken soup cooked with bit­ter melon and pineap­ple.

How­ever, what I liked most among all th­ese was the fruit steamed with fried mark­erel.

In­gre­di­ents in­cluded mark­erel, bit­ter melon, green onions, gar­lic, chilli, oys­ter sauces, co­rian­der and cook­ing oil.

Lean mark­erel was ground un­til it was well kneaded and then mixed with onion, salt, minced chilli and a spoon­ful of cook­ing oil.

Bit­ter melon was cleaned and af­ter the in­sides were re­moved, each fruit was cut into 3 to 4 pieces. Th­ese were put into a pot of boil­ing wa­ter over a big fire for 1 to 2 min­utes and then poured into a bas­ket.

With a spoon, the fish was scooped up, stuffed into each piece and steamed on a hot­plate for 15 min­utes.

Let­tuce was dis­played on the plate, and the bit­ter melon pieces placed on it. Oys­ter sauce was poured on the food and the plate dec­o­rated with co­rian­der.

This dish was a bit dif­fi­cult to make but we all en­joyed it be­cause of the crispy fried mark­erel and the light bit­ter taste of the fruit ac­com­pa­nied by a very strik­ing smell of oys­ter sauce.

Mean­while, her­bal­ist Toâ Bình Minh said there are many sub­stances in bit­ter melon such as vi­ta­min C which are very help­ful to pre­vent age­ing and re­duce choles­terol in the blood.

He ad­vised peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly women, to drink ground fresh bit­ter melon.

"You should mix it with lemon or ap­ple juice to re­duce the bit­ter­ness," Minh said.

Dur­ing sum­mer, bit­ter melon was a very good sub­stance for moth­ers to treat their chil­dren's prickly heat.

"One or two fresh bit­ter melons are cut into lit­tle pieces or mashed and pressed hard to squeeze out the wa­ter. That wa­ter is then poured into a basin with which the ba­bies are bathed," he said.

By do­ing so, prickly heat is con­sid­er­ably re­duced or stopped, and the child feels com­fort­able and healthy, said Minh.

Bit­ter melon can help to re­duce glu­cose lev­els in di­a­bet­ics if they reg­u­larly drink a cup a day. It also helps to strengthen the im­mune sys­tem, treat gravel, pan­creas can­cer and many other ail­ments, the her­bal­ist said.

"Al­ka­loid in bit­ter melon helps im­prove blood cir­cu­la­tion, pre­vent in­flam­ma­tion, re­duce fever and cool the en­tire body," Minh said.

A plate of bit­ter melon salad helps peo­ple to cool down in the sum­mer heat.

Bit­ter melon stuffed with minced pork, wood ears, onions and other in­gre­di­ents makes for a de­li­cious dish in Vieät Nam.

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