I was late to the health food store on Friday and didn't have much to choose from on the fresh veggies shelf. In fact, there was only a small package of near-organic tiny green bitter melons at the ridiculous price of about one USD. I looked online for recipes and found none that fit the ingredients available in the refrigerator. I did note the prominence of tomatoes and curries made with bitter melon and incorporated a dash of curry (my family is not as fond of spicy foods as I am) and the last sagging (perfect for sauteing) tomato. My gamble based on gut intuition (according to the recent science news that we have brains in our stomachs, and as the way to a family's heart is through the stomach) was to make cloves the featured sweet but punchy spice to pull off a delicious dish. To my own amazement, it worked!
Side dish size (serves 3-4 people).
How to Make It
Wash and halve the bitter melons. Core them with a coffee spoon. Slice it to 1/4-cm or 16th-inch wedges around the cored melons.
Peel, wash, and cut the red onion into just slightly larger wedges (which look like slivers from a distance).
Wash and dice the tomato into one-centimeter or half-inch cubes (more or less).
Heat up the flat frying pan or whatever shape of metal you prefer to medium hot (so the gas flame is tickling the pan but firing up its molecules so that it will burn the saute, which is not a barbecue).
Add grape seed oil (enough to protect the veggies you are about to toss in) and olive oil (because it tastes great and add variety to the lubrication).
The bitter melon is usually hard as Masonite, so toss it in first, followed immediately by all the spices (see below), then always (more or less, pause to let it brown a tad) keep scraping and stirring with a flat (and flat-edged) steel spatula. (This of course prevents organic materials from accumulating and burning.) After they look slightly in need of company, toss in the red onions, noting the beauty of the color combination and how long it must wait for the tomato--a very long time (at least ten minutes).
It is at this stage that you may fear the saute in danger of becoming too dry and burning, yet the melon has yet to be fully cooked (I detest having to boil them ahead of time). Thus, here you need some form of liquid enhancement. Of course water is an option--no it is not; it would rob your dish of any hope of achieving panache and leave you miserable for the whole evening. Here you need cooking wine of some sort. I grabbed what I saw handy: bootleg clear liquor that the melons seemed to love. (Those of you struggling in 12-step programs, fear not, for the alcohol burns away leaving only a residue of the secret ingredient of all cooking: LOVE).
Toss in the tomato. Stir for another 2-3 minutes.
Add the brown sugar, stir in, and again after a minute, and it is done.
Find a bowl for serving it (don't just leave it in the pan simmering into hellish sogginess).
Bitter green melons (4-6 tiny ones that fit palm of your closed hand)
Red onion (one small one will be enough)
Tomato (one medium-large one or two small ones, or perhaps a dozen halved cherry tomatoes)
Fresh whole cloves (ten; fresh means that when you open the bag or container the smell knocks you over)
Curry powder (a teaspoon or to taste, depending on the curry powder you prefer; I usually use the one sold in most Vietnamese restaurants)
Fresh ground green cardamon (one teaspoon, peel them and grind the seeds in the pod, or pulverize them in a pestle/mortar)
Salt (one teaspoon; I can't recommend sea salt anymore since it is found to have plastic crystallized in it--even in Antarctica!)
Bootleg plain cooking liquor (optional; ask your Taiwanese friends)
Brown sugar (one and a half tablespoons or to taste; try to use organic or least processed)
Grape seed oil