Friday, June 24, 2011

Cash In Your Chips...For Bitter Melon

    When tossing any sort of soiree, there is always that awkward phase (for me) before we actually sit down to eat. Indian meals are served in many courses, all at once. It requires timing, dexterity and sometimes a lot of cussing. Making sure everything is ready all at once without a bevy of sisters-in-law to help, can take time sometimes. With hungry people hovering around the kitchen waiting, the eternal question is what to throw at them to keep them happy and out of my hair. The next question is what to throw at them to keep them happy and that also goes along with the meal they're going to be eating.
   Cheese and crackers or a plate of charcutrie won't do it here, and even a nice chevre or Vella Tome doesn't exactly match with a South Indian feast. Of course there are a variety of Indian snack foods that can be prepared, and depending on how many other things I've got going stove-wise, there is always the possibility of poppadoms, or bite size samosas, or a chaat. There are times however that I just long to open a bag of chips, crack some nice Indian beer and send everyone into another room. Popping a can of Pringles at this point, or dragging out the lime corn chips or the salt and vinegar potato chips is a culinary hanging offense with a delicately balanced Indian meal. Not to mention that this stuff can actually be bad for you. Surely you jest?! No. I don't. Just yesterday there was study from the New England Journal of Medicine that laid the blame for most weight gain on you guessed it..chips !
   What's that about "you always hurt the one you love?" Sometimes the one you love hurts back. Ouch. Time to put on one's big girl pants (which is actually what one might wind up wearing for reals) and look for an alternative to the salty crunch. That is where the bitter melon comes in.
I am hereby appointing myself the Bitter Melon Queen since no one else seems to be doing the job. Dude, I gotta crown and everything!
   I've been stalking the National Bitter Melon Council, trying to join without any results, and I'm starting to think it's a joke site. Either way I'm falling in love with this vegetable. I want everyone else to experiment and share the love. What I discovered once I started preparing bitter melon all by their lonesome, as opposed to just a bit player in vegetable stews, is that as an appetizer, they rock! Plus, did I say they're good for you? That too, which never hurts.
  Bitter melon can be found at most Asian or Indian markets and while there are many varieties, it generally looks like this, or like this.
   When it comes to bitter melon in the US of A, I take what I can get. Either variety is just fine and either variety makes for delicious Bitter Melon Chips, my new favorite snack food. I'd first read about these tasty little bites in one of my kitchen standbys' Lord Krishna's Cuisine by Yamuna Devi. I whipped up a batch for my dinner party last week, and they were a huge hit even with people who had never had bitter melon before. They have all the flavor of a spicy chip with just 4 Tbs of oil, far better than the deep frying involved in most chips. Plus they cook fast!


Bitter Melon Chips




Here's what to do:
   Wash 2 large or 4 small sized bitter melon and cut them into thin slices. Remove any seeds.
Put the melon slices into a bowl and sprinkle them with coarse salt.
Coat the slices and rub the salt in.
   Place a weight on the slices (I put a plate on top of the bitter melon and set a jug of vinegar on it) and let them sit for 30 minutes to an hour. The object is to squeeze out the bitter juices.
  After the melon has been pressed, rinse the slices off in cold running water.
Make sure all the salt is rinsed off. Squeeze them to get the last  juices out, then blot them dry with a paper towel .
  In a large skillet or kadhai, heat  4 Tbs of vegetable oil. It's important for the oil to be hot, hot, hot so that the chips will crisp up properly. When the oil is hot but not smoking, toss in the bitter melon chips.
 Stir fry them (turn them once) until they start to crisp and brown, about 10 minutes or so. Take the pan off the heat add in:
  1/4 tsp of turmeric
 1/4 tsp  kashmiri chili powder or 1/8 tsp paprika mixed with 1/8 tsp of cayenne
 1/4 cup grated dried or fresh coconut
 1/2  Tbs of lemon or lime juice
Mix all of the spices together with the bitter melon slices.
Sprinkle with a 1/4 tsp of sea salt or any good quality salt and serve them up with beer or any soft drink,
   Spicy, salty, paired with any cold drink they're the perfect, easy appetizer. I haven't yet tried adding in a touch of jaggery or brown sugar to see if I wind up with Bitter Melon Kettle Chips, but believe me it's coming.
   So if you're looking for a healthy alternative to the same old, same old chips and dip, try this. And if you can't believe that something this guilt-inducing can actually be good for you, check this out!
  Coming up next,  a Summer Sunday lunch goes Goan with Goat Vindaloo and all the fixings, and a new way (yes another) with zucchini.

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