After seeing bitter melon in Cincinnati, we found it at our neighborhood Korean market. I was determined to make some pinakbet, a stew of vegetables and smidgin of pork. I left a message for one of my uncles on his Facebook wall asking for his recipe and he sent me to this website for the recipe he uses. Then last week, we got green beans and eggplant in our CSA shares. It was meant to be. All I needed was to go to Choi’s for the bitter melon and bagoong, shrimp paste. If you’re wondering, it is gluten-free and I didn’t have to make any alterations to make it so. The only thing different I did to the recipe was add the green beans.
Now, my uncle that gave me the website doesn’t like bitter melon. Like its name, it is bitter. Not just a little bitter. Mega bitter. As another uncle joked with him, it gives the dish twang. Bitter melon is being researched for its potential to be an immunomodulator, meaning it is being tested to see if it improves immune function to help treat cancer and HIV. It is used to help lower blood sugar levels as the bioactive proteins it contains help with glucose uptake and regulating metabolism.
This was my first time cooking with bitter melon and bagoong. I’ll admit, when I was measuring out the bagoong, I was turned off by the smell. It reminded me of how I dislike cooking with patis, anchovy sauce, when I first put it in a dish because it just stinks. Glowing recommendation to use it, right? Well, it’s one of those things that, it stinks to start off with, but by the time everything incorporates together, it’s a heavenly smell. Just like being at Grandma’s. Any of the many grandmas back home. Especially my own.
Once I had everything in my stockpot, I had to leave the kitchen to get away from the odor until it really started cooking. By the time I checked on it, it was the perfect pinakbet smell. The true test was the taste test. INCREDIBLE. Not quite Grandma’s, but close enough for me to feel like I had a taste of home here in the middle of Kentucky.
The funny part was it was my husband’s first taste of it, so he didn’t have anything to compare it to.
Husband: What is this?
Me: Pinakbet. You’ve had it before.
Husband: No I haven’t. Every time I’ve gotten around to the food, it was gone.
Yeah, that’s us. We’re like vultures who descend on the food and devour everything in sight as soon as we are signaled to eat. I told you before, we’re all about the food.
He liked it enough to have leftovers with lumpia, Filipino style spring rolls, the next day. It’s a good thing, too. I made so much that I had to freeze some of it. We’ll be having leftovers for a while. Anyone want come over and try some?