Just the thought of eating any food with the word, "bitter" associated with it makes my lips pucker and salivary glands go into tsunami mode.
Excuse me while I spit.
So why did I buy a vegetable so bitter that even animals turn their noses against it?
I bought "bitter melon" the other day in an Indian market when I overheard two women raving about its medicinal properties in the produce section.
"It is a natural remedy for diabetes…it lowers blood-sugar-levels" I heard one woman say.
"Yes, and my kids love it with chutney," answered the other anonymous shopper.
I like any food is that is healthful, especially if it takes good with mango chutney!
I had to take a peek at the mysterious vegetable that they were fawning over.
Bitter melon with onion and hot chilies!
I identified the super-food- vegetable as my eyes focused in on the waxy and warty skin of the bitter melon.
Some people refer to it as an "African cucumber" or "balsam pear," but once you taste it, those common names smack of false advertising.
The bitter melon holds the title of most bitter vegetable in the world, yet it is widely popular in many Asian and African cuisines.
Looks great….but does it taste good?
I sauteed chopped sweet onion and green chilies in grape seed oil and added the sliced rounds of bitter melon.
The only seasoning I used was salt, a little pepper and some sprigs of fresh cilantro at the very end.
I wanted to keep the recipe simple so that I could taste the bitter melon without masking it with too many flavors.
I let the onions caramelize and the bitter melon soften to reduce the crunch factor of the peel.
After 5 minutes, it looked ready to serve.
The Moment of Truth!
Armed with yogurt raita, (just in case I needed to coat my tongue from the hot chilies), fresh, hot chapatti Indian bread, I served myself a small "sample" of bitter melon.
It looked delicious!
I made a decision that I would keep eating until I finished the whole thing, even if I didn't like the taste at first bite.
My taste buds picked up the sweet onions first.
I felt a slight sting from the chile but before I could appreciate its warmth, an overwhelming bitterness took over.
The acrid taste of the bitter melon was similar to the taste of an aspirin when it dissolves in your mouth, minus the grit.
In an attempt to make an unpleasant meal more palatable, I searched the refrigerator for something to neutralize the acidic bite.
Mango chutney may have worked, but I was out of it!
I found a jar of sweet and tangy tamarind sauce and drizzled it over the bitter melon.
The small addition of sweetness to the palate was the perfect chaser for the reputed, "most bitter vegetable in the world!"
I was able to finish the meal with mixed feelings.
So, what was I expecting with a name like "bitter melon?"
Do You Have the "bitterness gene?"
While putting this blog post together, I read a few studies that claim that genetics have much to do with our aversion or acceptance of bitterness.
I must not have the "bitterness gene," (except maybe a little in the morning).
Ask my husband.
Bitter melon is definitley an acquired taste and it would take a really amazing recipe for me to try it again.
Any readers out there have one?