Bitter gourds have long been prized in Asia for a trait considered a defect in cucumbers: bitterness. We tend to believe that anything bitter is medicinal and, in this case, we could be correct. The bitter gourd is said to cure a wide range of ailments – from gastrointestinal conditions to cancers, and from diabetes to HIV.
Also known as bitter melons, bitter gourds are pale green, with an irregular, warty surface. Typically, they are eaten following an initial treatment to remove some of the bitterness; often they are stuffed, to complement their somewhat eccentric bite.
The soup I bring you today has an excellent balance of flavors, with the bitterness of the gourd lingering only as a closing resonance. It feels rather refreshing on the palate, clearing the taste buds for the next bite.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome this delightfully healthy and flavorful dish: an outstanding clear soup of bitter gourd stuffed with pork and glass noodles.
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- 1 Chinese bitter gourd (มะระจีน)
- 1 1/2 cups sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 5-6 cups pork stock (น้ำสต๊อกหมู)
- 4-6 dried shiitake mushrooms (เห็ดหอมแห้ง)
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce (ซีอิ๊วขาว)
For the stuffing
- 150 g minced pork meat (เนื้อหมูบด)
- 2 coriander roots (รากผักชี)
- 2 Chinese garlic (กระเทียมจีน)
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns (พริกไทย)
- Pinch sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- Pinch granulated sugar (น้ำตาลทราย)
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce (ซีอิ๊วขาว)
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce (ซอสน้ำมันหอย)
- 50 g glass noodles (วุ้นเส้น) soaked in water and cut to 2.5cm (1″) length
- 2 tablespoons carrot (แครอท) finely shredded
For the garnish
- coriander leaves (ใบผักชี)
- ground white pepper (พริกไทยป่น)
- Cut the bitter gourd into 5cm (2″) length pieces.
- With a spoon, remove the seeds and sprinkle them generously with salt. Leave for about 20 minutes, allowing the salt to draw out some of the bitterness.
- Wash, and set aside.
- In a pestle and mortar, pound the garlic, coriander roots, white pepper, sugar and salt into a fine paste.
- Mix the pork and the coriander-garlic paste, along with the softened rice vermicelli and the carrots; season with light soy sauce and oyster sauce. Mix well.
- Stuff the bitter gourd pieces with pork filling. When the gourds are stuffed, tap them with your hands on both sides to secure the filling.
- Bring the stock to boil, add the dry shiitake mushrooms, and place the stuffed bitter gourds in the pot.
- Cook until the bitter gourds are soft.
- Season with light soy sauce.
- Serve in individual bowls; garnish with the coriander leaves and sprinkle white pepper to finish.