Friday, December 30, 2011

Recipe: Spicy Black Bean Tofu with Bitter Melon

Animals are my friends... and I don't eat my friends. – George Bernard Shaw

The finished dish. Quite spectacular looking in my opinion...
Yesterday I posted about bitter melon. This recipe uses bitter melon as one of the main ingredients. Good thing that I had one on hand...

The butter melon has decorative ridges when sliced.
You will be happy to know that although the name says “bitter” it’s not quite as bitter as one would surmise. The taste is somewhat like a cucumber except firmer like a green pepper. 

The bitterness isn’t really all that pronounced. I found it just somewhat more “bitter” than eating a piece of raw eggplant.

From what I have read others would disagree. I read someone referred to bitter melon drink as “tasting like evil.” (They must have a weak constitution.)

One thing I do know is that the flavour went extremely well with black beans. It didn’t hurt that there was garlic and ginger in the dish as well. 

Strong flavours complemented it. When using tofu as your protein source it's always good to have something strong in the rest of the meal. Tofu has little to no taste of its own so is wonderful to pair with stronger ingredients.

This dish also has a slight sweetness to it. That was a bonus that I wasn’t really expecting.

The following recipe is “sauced” but not swimming in it. I have a note at the bottom about increasing the liquids if you wish. I found it fine the way it was. Also, like most Asian dishes, all the work is in the preparation. When you get down to it the dish comes together very quickly.

If you’ve never tried bitter melon you should make this dish. It’s completely vegetarian and was quite filling. I went back for seconds and then thirds.

Spicy Black Bean Tofu
Fry the tofu until browned. Then repeat with the melon.
Prep: 15 min  |  Cook: 20 min  |  Serves 4
vegetable oil for frying
1 block extra firm tofu, cut into cubes
1/4 cup corn starch
1 bitter melon, about 12-14” long
2 tbsp red chilli paste paste
1 tbsp fermented black beans
3 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp crushed chilis (or more)
4 garlic cloves
4 green onions, sliced into 1” sections
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
4 tbsp water
Chinese wheat noodles for four, your choice

First, halve the bitter melon on the long dimension and scoop out the seeds. Salt liberally and let sit for 15 minutes. During this time you can prep the aromatics and liquid. 

Peel and chop the ginger, chop the black beans and the garlic. Place together in a small bowl with the chilli flakes.

After cooking the melon and tofu, this comes together in
about three minutes.
Combine the sugar, soy, rice wine and water in another small bowl.

Cut the tofu into cubes or strips and coat with the cornstarch.

Heat about 1/4 cup of oil in a wok. Fry the tofu in batches until slightly browned. Remove and set aside. Rinse the salt from the melon, chop into 1/4” slices and brown the pieces in the hot wok. Add a little more oil if necessary. Remove and set aside with the tofu.

Cook your chosen noodles. The remainder of the dish comes together very quickly.

Fry the aromatics for 1 minute in the wok. Add the browned tofu and bitter melon. Toss together with the aromatics. Add the red chilli paste and the liquid. Toss quickly. The liquid will thicken almost instantly.

Chop the green onions and add to the wok.

Serve immediately over the noodles. (If you like more sauce, double the liquids. You may have to thicken it a bit more to your liking as well.)


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  1. Yummy! I could eat a bowl of this right now, and it's only 7.47am.

  2. This is a delicious dish for vegetarians or vegans. the tofu should absorb the flavor of the aromatics and the bitterness of the vegetable should e a nice contrast to everything.