Monday, August 9, 2010

“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”

Oh, August in Japan – the time of year when I would gladly do nothing except lie around scantily clad in an air-conditioned room (except that I quickly go stir-crazy), when I feel like eating nothing but watermelon (except that it does strange things to my digestive system).

I tried alternating between the old standby red and the new curiosity yellow watermelon, but apparently that does not qualify as a balanced diet. What? Maybe if I could get my hands on some of those expensive square watermelons…

But if you want to try a real adventure, forget the water- altogether. Go for bitter-. In recent one-on-one work with a student, he repeatedly said his ideal vacation would be to go to Okinawa to eat goya chanpuru. After hearing about this dish everyday for two weeks, I think he hypnotized me into wanting to eat it – inception, anyone?

Obviously I am not going to be able to fly to Okinawa anytime soon, so I had to make it myself.

First, let me introduce you to the bitter melon, or goya in Japanese. The shape of a fat cucumber, but a paler green and covered in bumps. They also have a light heft, more like a pepper. A good thing because I found one the size of my arm and otherwise I could have clobbered someone with this:

(My arm is the one on the bottom, in case you were wondering.)

I am one for whom the texture of food is more important than the flavor. To be honest, I like the taste of tomatoes, but cannot stand that slimy membrane mouthfeel. If it’s pulverized into an indistinguishable paste I’m ok, which is why I’ve always done well with tomato soup and spaghetti sauce.

Goya is the exact opposite of tomato – it is a beautiful vegetable to touch. It is a joy to slice – I want to buy a dozen and line them up so I can go chopchopchop down the line – oh wait, that would require a kitchen with counters. It slices very crisp and crunchy with a satisfying sound. Again, this reminds me of green peppers, except those demonic vegetables are designed to be as warped and difficult to slice as possible – I worked at a salad bar, i would know.

Look at how pretty that is! I wonder if there’s any recipes that involve goya and lotus root, the other most exquisite vegetable in Japan – but I suspect the flavors would be entirely incompatible.

The inside has some sort of pith, and large soft seeds. I scraped them out with a spoon.

Goya also smells nice – like a very green green apple, or maybe the stems of some flowers.

I should admit I tried this dish twice – the first time I did no preparation to the goya, and it was so bitter my mouth almost rebelled. The second time I soaked it for half an hour in salt water, and that was much better.

And fried it with onion, slices of beef, scrambled egg. It is still noticeably bitter, but it was well balanced with other flavors.

The hollow shape of it begs for my next experiment with it to involve stuffing, but I’m not sure yet if anything it surrounded would not be overwhelmed.


Raney said...

Sounded really nice to chop and nice and crisp tasting. Was it crisp when cooked? The egg sounded like a nice touch. I don't know if we could get that here, but there is another thing called bitter melon that the Hmong farmers sell, and its round and orange like small pumpkins, and its not very bitter once you cook it. We have a lot of mustard greens here and I think I am going to make something Indian called Saag. said...

i want