I recently returned from a road trip with the family exploring the majestic Pacific Northwest. Six days on the road with mostly dining out, I was really missing Vietnamese home cooking. Nothing beats the comfort and satisfaction of a home-cooked meal. As soon we we returned home, I got some beautiful bitter melons for a quick yet scrumptious side dish to go with steamed white rice: Vietnamese bitter melon and eggs (Khổ Qua Xào Trứng).
Bitter melons are not really melons. They are gourds. I was never a fan of bitter melon as a kid. They are extremely bitter. Sure, they improve my skin, prevent cancer, fight diabetes, give you the ability to walk on water and so on. However, my high school Natural Science class taught me that anything bitter is a warning that it may be poisonous. That was my reasoning to not eat bitter melon when mom made me. It wasn't until much, much later in life when I started to like the bitterness. Nowadays, bitter melon is in my daily cooking repertoire.
When bitter melon is prepared correctly, it isn't so bitter and can be quite delicious. First, pick the right melon. There are a couple of varieties. Some are small, dark green, and have small rough bumps. This variety is very bitter. For a more pleasant experience, choose the variety that is a large, light green in color with large and smooth bumps.
Second, never eat bitter melon raw unless, of course, you want to punish yourself and your dining guests.
Lastly, salt the bitter melon before cooking. Remove the seeds then slice them up. Sprinkle a generous amount of salt on them and let them sit for at least 30 minutes to draw out the bitterness. Rinse thoroughly, then cook however you like.
There are two popular Vietnamese dishes that utilizes bitter melon. One is a simple stir fry with eggs (Khổ Qua Xào Trứng). The other is stuffed bitter melon soup (Canh Khổ Qua or Khổ Qua Nhồi Thịt). Below is the recipe for the former. Enjoy!
Vietnamese Bitter Melon and Eggs Recipe (Kho Qua Xao Trung)
2 medium size bitter melons (Halve, remove seeds, then slice thin. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly before use)
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves (mince)
1/4 cup salted dried shrimp (soak in hot water for 30 minutes)
1 teaspoon finely sliced green onions or chives
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, fish sauce and sugar. Set aside.
Heat a medium-size skillet with vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and dried shrimp. Saute until fragrant (3-5 minutes).
Add bitter melon. Saute to desired consistency (5-10 minutes).
Add beaten eggs. Turn the heat to low and cook until eggs are completely set.
Sprinkle with black pepper and garnish with green onions/chives.
Serve with steamed white rice.