Singapore Vegetable – Bittergourd Lemak

Singapore - 001 Bittergourd Lemak edited re-sized

“Bitter-gourd” is such an unattractive name for a vegetable. As a child, whenever my chopsticks hoovered over the several dishes of a communal style meal in a traditional Chinese family set up, they always made an about turn should bitter-gourd be part of any one of those dishes. My father would patiently encourage with words like “it is not that bitter, just a small bite. It is very good for you!” Alas, it would be years later before I took my first bite. That first bite was only after a slice of bitter-gourd was doused with lemon juice. He was right, it even tasted good!

Things have changed. My whole family has been enjoying several types of bitter-gourd dishes as part of our meal for a quite a number of years. This recipe has received many good comments from them. I should have cooked it much earlier – a recipe that has sat in my repertoire of un-tried recipes for many years.

To motivate the un-initiated to try cooking bitter-gourd, listed below are some of its health benefits taken from http://www.nutrition-and-you.com

  • The vegetable is very low in calories, providing just 17 calories per 100g. Nevertheless, its pods are rich in phytonutrients like dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants.
  • Bitter melon notably contains phyto-nutrient, polypeptide-P; a plant insulin known to lower blood sugar levels. In addition, it composes hypoglycemic agent called charantin. Charantin increases glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis in the cells of liver, muscle and adipose tissue. Together, these compounds are thought to be responsible for reduction of blood sugar levels in the treatment of type-2 diabetes.
  • Fresh pods are an excellent source of folates, contain about 72 µg/100g (Provides 18% of RDA). Folate helps reduce the incidence of neural tube defects in the newborns when taken by mothers during early pregnancy.
  • Fresh bitter melon is an excellent source of vitamin-C (100 g of raw pod provides 84 mg or about 140% of RDI). Vitamin-C, one of the powerful natural antioxidants, helps the body scavenge deleterious free radicals one of the reasons for cancer development.
  • It is an excellent source of health benefiting flavonoids such as ß-carotene, α-carotene, lutein, and zea-xanthin. It also contains a good amount of vitamin A. Together; these compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging, cancers and various disease processes.
  • Bitter melon stimulates easy digestion and peristalsis of food through the bowel until it is excreted from the body. Thus, helps in relieving indigestion and constipation problems.
  • In addition, the vegetable is an also good source of niacin (vitamin B-3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5), pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) and minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium, manganese and magnesium.

My father’s urgings were made decades ago but he is right! Don’t we all discover that our parents’ wisdom over many things in life prove true as we live out our lives?

 Ingredients

  • Front Row from L to R. Lemon grass, fresh red chillies, Cincalok (Malaccan fermented krill and similar to Korean fermented shrimp paste called jeotgal ) and shallots
  • Centre row from L to R. Medium -sized prawns (frozen), Daun Kesom, Bittergourd
  • Back row from L to R. Rock salt, coconut santan/cream, bottles of Cincalok and cooking oil

Comments about some of the Ingredients

1. Cincalok

Above Photo taken from http://www.tradekorea.com/. This condiment is widely used in Kimchi making to add depth to the flavour of both white and spicy nappa kimchi. Having tasted both the Malaccan and Korean varieties, the later has a milder, fresher and deeper umami flavour. Definitely a good substitute if Cincalok is unavailable.

2. Quick method to thaw frozen prawns (other than in the microwave).

In a binge for time? I use the double plastic method. Place prawns in a smaller plastic bag and place that into a larger plastic bag of tap water ( if you use a bowl, the smaller bag and its contents tend to float and you will have to weigh it down). Tie both tightly with a rubber band and seat them on the kitchen counter. Takes about 15 mins.

 COOKING

STEP 1. In a large saucepan or pot, bring water and sugar to boil, add the Spices and Herbs. Boil for 5 mins. Then add the bitter-gourd segments and continue boiling (covered) fora further 5 mins to soften the bitter-gourd.

STEP 2. Add prawns and continue boiling for about 2 mins or so. Only till prawns start to turn pink (watch this carefully as prawns toughen and shrink when overcooked). Lower heat.

STEP 3.  Add half pkt. of coconut santan. Cook for 3 to 5 mins on medium low heat but do not boil the liquid in saucepan, otherwise this will cause coconut santan to curdle.

STEP 4. Dish into a serving bowl. Dribble 2 Tbsp of coconut santan and garnish.

 RECIPE

Serves 6 to 8 persons

Ingredients

  • l whole Bittergourd (weighing about 400 gms). De-seed and cut into 6cm long segments.
  • 100 gm peeled medium Prawns
  • l pkt Kara brand Coconut cream (200ml size)
  • Spices and Herbs (boil in a large Saucepan)
    3 shallots, peel and slice thinly
    1 stalk Serai, thinly slice the  white part only but keep the green part
    2 large red chillies, de-seed and slice thinly
    3 stalks Daun Kesom (laksa leaves)
    l tsp. Chincha lok (preserved krill)
    300 ml water
    l tsp sugar
  • Garnish
    l Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
    1/2 Tbsp finely sliced Daun Kesom (laksa leaves)

Method

1. In a large saucepan or pot, bring water and sugar to boil, add the Spices and Herbs. Boil for 5 mins.

2. Then add the bitter-gourd segments and continue boiling (covered) for a further 5 mins or so to soften the bitter-gourd.

3.  Add prawns and continue boiling for about 2 mins or so. Only till prawns start to turn pink (watch this carefully as prawns toughen and shrink when overcooked). Lower heat.

4. Add 100 ml of coconut santan. Cook for 3 to 5 mins on medium low heat but do not boil as this will cause coconut santan to curdle.

5. Dish into a serving bowl. Dribble 2 Tbsp of coconut santan and garnish.

Serving Suggestions

Serve with rice. Depending on the number of people and their dietary preference at mealtime, this dish may be accompanied with other meat, seafood or vegetable dishes. For your convenience, suggestions of dishes which are complimentary are listed below.

HINT: Try to use those ingredients which are already in the fridge, freezer or larder. For a sample weekly marketing list, click here.

Meat Dishes

1. Beef Rendang (spicy). Click here

2. Singapore Chicken Curry (spicy). Click here

3. Paper Wrapped Chicken (Baked). Click here

4. Pari Pari Style Chicken. Click here.

Seafood Dishes

1. Dry Assam Seafood. Click here

2. Fried Fish with Fermented Black Bean Sauce. Click here.

3. Stuffed You Tiao (Baked).  Click here.

More Vegetable Dishes

1. Broccoli and Meat/Tofu Stir Fry. Click here.

2. Pork, Spinach and Egg Stir Fry. Click here

3. Shanghai Cabbage with Oyster Sauce and Garlic. Click here.

You may like to end this meal with a plate of cold, freshly cut seasonal fruits. Perhaps you had time to make one of the desserts listed below?

1. Almond Jelly + Longans Click here.

2. Coconut Jelly with Can Lychees. Click here.

3. Sago Pudding. Click here.

4. Orange Agar Agar. Click here.

5. Sweet Potato Dessert Soup. Click here.

6. Apple Crepes. Click here.

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