Friday, August 26, 2011

Bitter Melon Salsa

It's been hot today, and I've been working in the kitchen. Perhaps it sounds counter-intuitive, but eating spicy food will eventually cool you down. This is known throughout the tropics, where nearly all indigenous cultures eat a lot of very hot food. Chiles, especially fresh green chiles, are the most anti-inflammatory food you can eat. That doesn't necessarily make it a cooling food, but in this particular instance, it does work. First, the chile will raise your body temperature slightly (an endothermic reaction). Then, you begin to sweat, as heat is released (an exothermic reaction). Finally, the sweat begins to evaporate, cooling the surface of your skin. It's magic, really, and you get to enjoy an endorphin rush in the process.

I was at the Indian store yesterday, buying fresh mint, when I saw some unusually fresh bitter melons. On impulse, I bagged over a pound of the beauties, with no particular purpose in mind. I used to make a filipino salad I learned from a coworker in Beverly Hills, that involves grilling the bitter melon (called ampalayรก in Tagalog). I haven't made it lately because it needs fish sauce to taste right, and I don't even buy fish sauce anymore. But I was in the mood to bring back that grilling technique, so I came up with a sort of MexicAsian relish. It evolved as I made it, as you'll see.

First I grilled the bitter melon as usual, letting it blacken dramatically. The next step is to wash and scrape off the char (always a good idea), slit the bitter melons lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds. Then I sliced them crosswise, a little wider than a quarter-inch. So far, it's the same salad. The filipino cuisine apparently doesn't mix bitter with spicy, but I have no problem with that, so I added basic salsa ingredients: fresh green chiles, tomato, onion, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Then I kept going, bringing in some diced avocado for good measure, and red kidney beans, for substance and protein. Finally, I added a few tablespoons of Simple Garlic Udo's Oil, a grind or two of black pepper, and a little ground chile chimayo, folding gently with a silicone spatula.

You have to like bitter melon to really enjoy this, but I do (very much), so there you have it. I made a lunch out of this little salad/salsa, eating it with some fire-heated tortillas.

For more ideas using bitter melon, check out an earlier post, "Bitter Is Good," and another one called "Bitter Melon Curry."


  1. I haven't tried bitter melon yet! Have bought a couple and let them go bad. This looks great!

  2. It is an acquired taste, but once you acquire it, you'll be hooked for life. It's extremely good for you--powerful blood purifier and tonic. Used in Chinese medicine to treat all sorts of blood disorders, diabetes, even to control HIV.