New Roots Farm has a semi-regular stand at the city market that sells produce grown at the community garden sponsored by the International Resource Committee here in Charlottesville. The garden sprung out of wanting to help refugees feel at home as many of them have a farming background, while also giving refugees access to fresh food, particularly some harder to find items from their home. By selling some of the excess produce, refugees learn new skills and earn some income. (Here’s a nice article that ran on them this past July) When I see their stand at market, I like to check out what they have to offer because it’s a good opportunity to try something new while also supporting a wonderful project. On a recent visit, this caught my eye:
Bitter melon. I’d never heard of bitter melon, but it looked really cool and so decided to bring home a few to try out. After doing some reading on the subject, I set out to prepare it for dinner to some very enthusiastic support from my girl. Something new and exotic on the menu? Yes, please!
Asian in origin, I was directed to Philippine, Chinese and Thai methods of cooking it from both the internet and friends who’d heard of it. I made a stir fry, adding some fresh Thai chiles from the garden along with lots of garlic and ginger, fish sauce and fresh lime juice. I added carrots for some sweetness, peanuts and tofu for protein and served it over rice.
There may have been some enthusiastic excitement over the prospect of dinner, but as it turns out, bitter melon is aptly named. It is definitely one of those foods that is an acquired taste and I’m not sure we’re up for acquiring it. At least we came to that opinion having tried it, so we can say it’s an informed opinion. In my reading up on the vegetable, I discovered it pickles well – the process is said to transform it, so we may just yet get on board with bitter melon. But non-pickled? We’ll pass, thank you very much. But you should definitely try it. New Roots Farm Stand has a few more weeks left in the season at the market on Michie Drive on Thursdays from 5-6:30 in the field.
(Editing to add, that after I published this, I was told if you soak bitter melon over night in salt water, it helps with the bitterness. Another alternative is to boil it in salted water. We may have to try that.)