YOGI FOOD [farmers' corner]
WE ENJOY THE NUTRITIOUS BENEFITS of most
members of the gourd family – watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumber – yet few of us are familiar with
the most bitter, and thereby the most beneficial, gourd
of all: bitter melon. Also known as balsam pear, bitter
melon resembles a cucumber with bumpy, warty skin.
According to The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, a
cup of bitter melon contains 23 calories; it is also an excellent source of vitamins B, C, and E, folic acid, zinc,
fiber, magnesium, and contains twice the potassium of
a banana. Studies have shown that it lowers blood sugar, combats in vitro viral activity (HIV infections and
herpes), and helps fight cancer, especially leukemia.
Bitter melons are usually available at local farmers markets and from Asian grocers from April through September, though they are best harvested and enjoyed during
the Indian summer of September and October. Ayurveda
teaches that the bitter taste (comprised of the elements
air and ether) has cooling, cleansing, drying, and alkalizing effects, and that bitter foods detoxify and tone the
organs, especially the liver. Traditionally, bitter melon is
used to treat inflammatory conditions like hypertension,
psoriasis, cough, fever, and digestive problems like constipation. In Ayurveda, bitter melon is also beloved for
its ability to help balance blood sugar levels.
Choose bitter melons that are firm, yellowish green,
and with a biting flavor, like an amped-up green bell
pepper. Refrigerate them and keep separate from ap-
ples, pears, and other ethylene-producing items which
induce ripening. Left to ripen, they become spongy,
turn yellowish-orange, and taste excessively bitter. If
left in the heat, over-ripe bitter melons may burst to
reveal orange flesh with sticky, bright red seeds inside.
For bitter melon recipe ideas, I interviewed Asian
farmers and friends, who recommended sautéing and
scrambling it with eggs, or stir-frying it with pork and
bean sprouts – even marinating it in rice vinegar and
sesame oil and serving cold. If you shy away from bitter
foods, balance the taste with the gourd’s sweeter cousins, cucumber and watermelon, and follow the seasonal
eating guideline of ‘things that grow together go well
together.’ My first attempt at a cooler – blending four
parts watermelon, one part cucumber, one part bitter
melon, plus a little ice and honey -- was palatable, but
didn’t test well with non-health nuts. When I paired the
gourd with a ripe cantaloupe in a salsa, I struck gold.
Served with tortilla chips, or layered atop grilled tofu,
chicken, or fish, it tested well with teenagers and meat-eaters alike.
Red Jen Ford is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Yoga Instructor and
Seasonal Eating Expert. Jen teaches her clients the benefits and simplicity of eating local, sustainably grown food. Enjoy more of her dishes
in her seasonal recipe booklets or online course, Simply in Season –
Fall Recipes to Celebrate Healthy, Easy Seasonal Food. Redjenford.com
ME LO N
THE MORE BITTER
BY RED JEN FORD
PHOTOS BY ISABELLA CASSINI