Indian bitter melons are small to medium-sized fruits, averaging 10 to 25 centimeters in length, and have a narrow, cylindrical shape with tapered, pointed ends. The skin is thick, bumpy, waxy, and rough, covered in many small, irregularly shaped ridges known as teeth. The skin also ripens from green to yellow-orange when mature. Underneath the surface, the flesh is crisp, firm, white, and aqueous, encasing a small cavity filled with seeds and pith. Indian bitter melons are considered unpalatable when raw, and once cooked, they develop a tender consistency with a sharp, bitter flavor.
Indian bitter melons are considered unpalatable when raw and are best suited for cooked applications such as frying, boiling, and sauteing. The seeds and pith are very bitter and should be removed before cooking. It is also recommended to soak the melon in saltwater for at least twenty minutes to help reduce the bitterness. Indian bitter melons are popularly stuffed, breaded, and fried, tossed into curries, soups, and stews, or mashed with potatoes as a side dish. The melons are also stir-fried with other vegetables and meats to balance out the bitter flavor, served with yogurt, cooked into omelets, or steeped into a tea. Indian bitter melons pair well with spices such as turmeric, cumin, coriander, chili powder, lemon juice, caramelized onions, lentils, meats such as beef, poultry, tofu, seafood, eggplant, string beans, tomatoes, and coconut milk.
The fresh melons will keep 4-5 days when stored in a sealed bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.
Bitter Melon Stir Fry
1 pound bitter melon
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as peanut or canola
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Toasted sesame oil, optional