Ratatouille with bitter melon: A medley of tastes and textures

In "The Cookbook" we share recipes that are both delicious and healthy, traditional and contemporary. The recipes are provided to us by Roots Community Supported Agriculture, which has partnered with the First Baptist Church on Atlantic Boulevard to bring locally-grown produce to Alhambra residents.

Bitter melon has traditionally been eaten throughout Asia and parts of Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and Middle East, and is prized for its medicinal properties. Studies have shown there is a link between blood sugar regulation and bitter melon consumption, among other health benefits. While it is referred to as a “melon” in English, its flesh is rather much like bell pepper. Do note, the first half of its name is very literal, as it is without a doubt bitter to the taste. 

Ratatouille with Bitter Melon
 
8 generous servings
 
Ingredients
  • 1 long Chinese eggplant
  • 1 leek
  • 3 small or 2 large bitter melon
  • 2 medium summer squash
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes or 4 large tomatoes
  • 1 bunch basil tied with a string
  • 6 to 12 cloves garlic
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Hot pepper flakes 

Ingredients for the ratatouille

Cooking Instructions
 
  1. Have 5 bowls handy for keeping your prepped vegetables separate. Cut eggplant into ½ inch cubes and toss with 2-3 teaspoons salt. Dice leek and summer squash into ½ inch pieces. To prepare bitter melon, trim stem away and cut in half lengthwise; scrape out spongy center with a spoon. Discard the spongy pith and seeds or compost them if you can. Cut into same size pieces as other vegetables. Cut cherry tomatoes in half, or larger tomatoes into cubes. Crush and peel the garlic and chop roughly. Pluck a few leaves of basil from the bouquet and reserve on your cutting board for garnishing.
  2. Heat about 3 tablespoons oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and cook the eggplant until soft and golden. Return eggplant to prep bowl and put aside, leaving the cooking oil in the pot. Add a touch more oil to the pot and gently sauté the leek until translucent. To this add the chopped garlic, pepper flakes, and bundle of basil. Cook for a minute, then add bitter melon and stir for a couple minutes before adding squash and tomatoes. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring every now and then. Return cooked eggplant to the pot with everything else and cook until everything is soft.
  3. Remove bundle of basil (careful, it will be very hot!) and squeeze between two large spoons to extract tasty juice! Stir, taste, and adjust seasoning with salt, olive oil, and more chopped garlic. Serve warm or cold with fresh basil, accompanied by steamed grains, noodles, or toast.

This recipe comes from Jessica Wang, a pastry chef and food preserver. More of her culinary creations are featured on her Instagram: @chinesebeancurd. Wang also volunteers with the Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance (APIOPA). APIOPA is a nonprofit organization that brings healthy fruits and veggies to Alhambra through Roots Community Supported Agriculture. Click for more information on how to purchase the produce needed for this recipe, directly from a local farmer! 

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