Stuffed Bitter Melon
Bitter melon is one of my very favorite foodstuffs in the world. Because of its natural bitterness, the vegetable is an acquired taste for many. You can reduce the bitterness by letting the vegetable steep in salt -- the longer they sit, the less bitter.
I'm particularly fond of stuffed vegetable dishes for the Sunday feast. "Stuffed's" are fancy and present beautifully on the offering plate, either whole of cut in half. Like fried savouries, stuffed's are appreciated as little delicacies, but they're usually lighter and less filling. And, the cook can be almost certain that no one else will prepare the same dish (unlike the halva, which seems to manifest in four or five varieties at a time).
This Stuffed Bitter Melon recipe came together one week when I needed a fast but opulent prep for the Sunday feast. The stuffing can be made the night before. Beautifully served at room temperature, you can do large quantities and stage the baking, or travel a distance with them, and still have a great prep to offer.
Take 30 small (baby) bitter melons
1/8 cup salt
Chenna from 1 gallon milk and 1 pint cream
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas
3 tblsp. ghee
1 tsp. celery salt
¼ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. asofoetida
½ tsp. turmeric
¾ tsp. ginger
Crushed red chilis, to taste
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tablespoon roasted ground cumin
Large pinch saffron, heated in 1 tablespoon milk
1 to 2 tablespoons jaggery, grated
Take 30 small bitter melons. Slice in half lengthwise and scoop out the center pulp. Lay them out in layers, one by one, liberally salting the insides. Add the next layer, salt, etc. Put a bit of weight on top (but don't break them). Let them sit for 1 to 2 hours, then rinse thoroughly, drain, and gently pat dry.
For the Stuffing:
Make chenna. Press for ten minutes, fluff with a fork and set aside.
Lightly steam 1-1/2 cups peas. Mash them, and temper with ghee, celery salt, nutmeg, asofoetida, turmeric, ginger, red chilis and black pepper
Add to the chenna: cumin, saffron, jaggery and seasoned pea mixture
Mix thoroughly. Stuff the mixture into the bitter melon halves. Put two stuffed pieces together and lay in a baking dish. Bake at 450 degrees for 40 minutes. During the last 15 minutes, drizzle a little ghee across the top to help crisp them.
While stuffing the bitter melon, try to closely match the halves by equal size and shape, so the stuffing stays inside nicely. There's no need to tie or skewer the halves together if you're laying them in a flat pan, as this stuffing doesn't tend to dribble out. You only need to secure the halves if they'll be jumbled out.
Offer hot or at room temperature.
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