Winter melon

What would you do with a half a winter melon? I’ve gotten friendly with a farmstand that specializes in Asian vegetables at the San Mateo Farmer’s Market. The woman who runs the farmstand knows I love bitter melon, and has told me about its health benefits. She probably figured this white guy needed to expand his Asian melon repertoire, so today she gave me half a winter melon, and said, “Try it in soup.”

There are lots of winter melon soup recipes online, and I’m leaning towards a simple one with dried black mushrooms, chicken broth, a little bit of chopped meat, and some slices of ginger.* But — what would you do if someone gave you half a winter melon?


*Two weeks later: And here’s the recipe I have been using for winter melon soup:

Half of a five pound winter melon, cut into 2 inch pieces (about 2 pounds of melon)
1 quart of chicken broth
1 knockwurst, cut into 1/2 inch circles
8-10 dried black Chinese mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
half a dozen slices of ginger root, peeled, and slivered
salt to taste

Bring the winter melon to a boil in water to cover, then simmer covered for 20 minutes.
Drain the water off.
Add chicken broth, mushrooms, ginger, and knockwurst to the cooked winter melon. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Bitter melon

One sunday morning, Dora came up to me with something in her hand. “You said you like bitter food, right?” she said.

“I love bitter things,” I said.

“Then you should try this,” she said, holding out a small, wrinkled green vegetable. “It’s called bitter melon.”

She told me how to prepare it: slice it open, scoop the seeds and pulp out, slice it up and stir-fry it, maybe mixing it with some other vegetables and perhaps some kind of meat, like sausages. Dora comes from a Chinese family, but bitter melon is not just Chinese; when Hong, who is Vietnamese, saw the bitter melon, her eyes lit up, and it turns out she loves it, too — sauteed with garlic, in her case. Both of them agreed that not everyone likes bitter melon.

You’d think a New England Yankee like me, raised on mild and restrained flavors, would not care for bitter melon. But I love it. It’s not an extreme taste; I think of it as being mildly bitter, maybe about as bitter as strong turnips. I haven’t been able to find it in any supermarkets, but fortunately there is one farmer at the San Mateo farmer’s market who carries both the white and green varieties.

Bitter melon