Bitter Melon with Chilies

(Look, look! We’re back in the picture business – many thanks to my sous chef and photographer husband, Xiaobing Tang, for the photos.)

Bitter melon is certainly an acquired taste – it is certainly not a flavor we Americans tend toward – but according to the Chinese system of food classifications, this is a cooling food, and since September in Southern California can be very hot, we decided to indulge! My husband is a huge fan of bitter melon (kugua in Mandarin) and was very excited to see them at the farmers’ market, where we have an excellent vendor of Asian produce. Bitter melon looks something like an overgrown, warty cucumber on the outside – some have spikier bumps, some are smoother. There are some good pictures at Kitazawa Seed Company. The inside features a pithy center filled with neatly arranged, large seeds.

This recipe can be made vegan or, as is my husband’s custom, a bit of pork can be added. Fermented black beans make a fine, authentic addition, but the recipe will work without them, too.


  • 1 bitter melon, approximately 1 lb
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 chili peppers – jalapeno, anaheim, pasilla, poblano – choose your favorite level of heat or go with what you can find at the market!
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 tsp fermented black beans (optional)


  1. Cut the melon in 1/2 lengthwise, scoop out the pith and seeds, then cut each half crosswise into 1/2″ half circles.
  2. Sprinkle the salt over the pieces, mix well with your hands, and set in a strainer to drain for 20-30 m.
  3. Cut the chilies in 1/2 lengthwise, remove the seeds if desired, then cut into 1/2″ wide sections.
  4. Rinse and shake off the melon pieces.
  5. Heat the oil in the wok over high heat until it shimmers, then explode the chilies until fragrant.
  6. Add the melon pieces, and stirfry quickly until they are tender.
  7. Add the black beans if using, stir to mix thoroughly, then remove from the heat.
  8. Adjust the seasoning (you may not need to add any salt) and serve.


If for you, as for Xiaobing, life is not complete without a bit of meat in your meal, you can start by stirfrying 2-4 oz of marinated lean pork shreds (use the marinade from the Beef or Pork in Garlic Sauce recipe), setting them aside, following the recipe above, then adding the pork back with the beans.

nutritional data:

This is an excellent vegetable-centric dish for those looking to increase their vegetable intake. If you leave out the fermented black beans and rinse the salt well after extracting the melon’s juices, it falls in an acceptable sodium range. I have omitted the pork and the black beans for these calculations and assumed that all but 1/2 tsp of the salt will be rinsed away. This recipe serves 4 as part of a larger meal, and information given is per serving.

  • Total calories 63, calories from fat 31
  • Total fat 4 g, saturated fat 1 g
  • Cholesterol 0 mg
  • Sodium 301 mg
  • Total carbs 7 g, dietary fiber 1 g, sugars 1 g
  • Protein 1 g

4 Responses

  1. Yumm… I’ve been dying for some bitter gourd for some time now and yours look really good.

  2. I had bitter melon in Hong Kong and really enjoyed it. Thanks for the recipe.


  3. So pleased to see some fans – it’s certainly an acquired taste!

  4. I LOVE bitter melon! I tried it for the first time last summer and fell in love.

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