Beef with Bitter Melon (苦瓜炒牛肉)

5 from 1 vote
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Try this tender and juicy beef with bitter melon – a stir fry that hits upon savory, sweet, and tangy notes in every single bite. {Gluten-Free Adaptable}

Stir fried bitter melon and beef

Want to try something a little different? Beef with bitter melon lends an exotic Asian twist to your dinner table. The beef is tender and juicy while the bitter melon is a bit tangy. Stir fried together with a black bean based sauce, it’s got all kinds of contrasting flavors that make it the perfect main dish. Plus, it’s super-healthy!

Beef with bitter melon with black bean sauce

What is bitter melon

Bitter melon (苦瓜) comes from a tropical plant known as Momordica charantia. In Chinese cuisine, it is adored for its health benefits and is used in a variety of recipes. Most commonly, you’ll find it in stir fries, but it is also often found in soups, stew, and dim sum. Because it contains certain compounds, it is believed that bitter melon can help with diabetes. It is full of antioxidants that minimize inflammation and some preliminary studies suggest it may help prevent cancer and other diseases. 

Having grown up in China, I enjoy eating bitter melon and have grown accustomed to its taste. My mom would prepare it often, by making a simple stir fry with eggs. I shared a very simple bitter melon stir fry recipe before, but I wanted to share one that’s a bit more decadent. Don’t worry if you’re worried about the bitter taste, as this recipe will help you come to love it.

Bitter melon

How to prepare bitter melon to minimize the bitter taste

If possible, try to pick bitter melons that are smaller in size, which tend to have a milder taste and their texture is more tender and crisp. The bigger they grow, the tougher the texture.

Depending on the specific melon you get, sometimes the bitterness can be quite intense. That’s why you want to prepare it right, so you’ll get a nice, tender texture without it tasting too bitter. 

Before you cook with bitter melon:

  1. Halve it lengthwise and scoop out and discard the seeds with the “white sponge” attached to them
  2. Slice the bitter melon into half-moon shape, so it’s easy to cook evenly but won’t fall apart
  3. Mix the cut bitter melon with salt for a quick 10-minute marinade and rinse off the salt. This step will extract some of the bitter juice from the melon
  4. Blanch the bitter melon briefly in boiling water. This step further reduces the bitterness and cooks the bitter melon evenly.
How to prepare bitter melon to reduce bitterness

The whole process does take a bit of time, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.

Ingredients for making beef with bitter melon

When you’re done prepping, your table should have the ingredients below.

Ingredients for making bitter melon and beef stir fry

You can either use fermented black beans or black bean sauce (I have a homemade version here) in this recipe.

Cooking process

To make the beef with bitter melon stir fry:

  1. Fry the black beans with garlic in oil
  2. Cook with bitter melon and a pinch of sugar
  3. Once the bitter melon is coated with sauce, transfer it to a plate
  4. Fry the ginger to release the fragrance
  5. Brown the beef
  6. Cook the sauce until it thickens
  7. Add the bitter melon 
  8. Give it a final stir
How to cook beef with bitter melon step-by-step
Beef with bitter melon close up

I added seasonings at different stages to further reduce the bitterness of the bitter melon and to create a better tasting sauce.

This might not be the easiest stir fry, but it’s so good for you and really delicious. Look for bitter melon at your local farmer’s market or find it at the Asian supermarket. It is a delightful dish, perfect for enjoying plenty of flavor, and it will help your body detox naturally!

Bitter melon and beef stir fry on rice

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Try this tender and juicy beef with bitter melon - a stir fry that hits upon savory, sweet, and tangy notes in every single bite. {Gluten-Free Adaptable}

Beef with Bitter Melon (苦瓜炒牛肉)

5 from 1 vote
Try this tender and juicy beef with bitter melon – a stir fry that hits upon savory, sweet, and tangy notes in every single bite. {Gluten-Free Adaptable}
To make the dish gluten-free, use tamari to replace the dark soy sauce and use dry sherry in place of the Shaoxing wine.
Author: Maggie Zhu
Course: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: home style
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 oz (225 g) flank steak , sliced thinly against the grain

Marinade

  • 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce (or regular soy sauce) (*Footnote 1)
  • 2 teaspoons peanut oil
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

Bitter Melon

  • 1 (12-10 oz) large bitter melon , seeded and cut into 1 cm (1/4”) slices
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Sauce

Stir Fry

  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil , separated
  • 1 large clove garlic , chopped
  • 1 tablespoon black bean sauce or fermented black beans, soaked in hot water for 1 minute, then drained and mashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 ” (2.5 cm) ginger , chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)

Instructions

  • Combine the beef and marinade ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Mix until the beef is fully coated. Set aside and marinate for 15 minutes, while preparing other ingredients.
  • Add the bitter melon to a big bowl and sprinkle the salt over it. Toss with your hand to coat it well. Let sit for 10 minutes.
  • Mix the sauce in a small bowl.
  • Bring a pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the salted melon and boil for 1 minute. Drain off the hot water. Rinse the bitter melon with running cold tap water a few times to stop the cooking. Drain again and place the bitter melon on a plate.
  • Pour 1/2 tablespoon of peanut oil in a large skillet and heat over medium heat until hot. Add the garlic and black bean sauce, then stir for 30 seconds to release the fragrance. Lower the heat if the black bean sauce starts to burn.
  • Add the bitter melon and sugar. Stir and cook for another minute. Transfer everything to a big plate and set aside.
  • Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of oil to the pan along with the ginger. Cook and stir for 30 seconds.
  • Turn to medium-high heat and add the marinated steak. Let cook undisturbed for 1 minute, or until the bottom is browned. Flip the meat and cook for another 1 minute or so, until the other side is browned. It’s OK if the inside of the beef is slightly pink.
  • Pour in the wine and use your spatula to scrape off any brown bits from the pan.
  • Add the sauce and stir, until it slightly thickens.
  • Add back the cooked bitter melon. Stir fry until the sauce reaches the desired consistency and everything is evenly coated.
  • Transfer everything to a big plate and serve hot over steamed rice.

Notes

  1. The dark soy sauce adds a nice dark brown color to the dish. You can use regular soy sauce as well. It doesn’t affect flavor though your dish will come out slightly lighter in color.

Nutrition

Serving: 1g, Calories: 194kcal, Carbohydrates: 8.8g, Protein: 17g, Fat: 10g, Saturated Fat: 2.9g, Cholesterol: 31mg, Sodium: 463mg, Potassium: 351mg, Fiber: 0.2g, Sugar: 3.5g, Calcium: 34mg, Iron: 1mg
Did You Make This Recipe?Don’t forget the last step! Tag me @OmnivoresCookbook and #OmnivoresCookbook on Instagram!

Lilja Walter is a part of the Omnivore’s Cookbook team and worked closely with Maggie to develop and test this recipe.

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Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Sandy says:

    Hi Maggie! This looks yummy, can’t wait to try it. Can you tell me what kind of rice you served this Beef with Bitter Melon dish?

    • Maggie says:

      I used a multigrain rice I made in the rice cooker (brown rice, barley, and wild rice), but you can serve it with regular steamed white rice or brown rice.

  2. NIck S says:

    5 stars
    I giving this a 5-star rating because everything cam out perfectly. What we made looked exactly what was pictures in your recipe. At my local specialty store, Asian Gourmet, I was told bitter melon was an acquired taste. When we bought the melon, the store owner grilled me because we shop frequently there and she remembers what we buy (her store is my favorite thing about Bismark). There may be the chance I have not acquired that taste quite yet. This was a total experiment for us and I wanted something completely different. Thanks for sharing; this was fun 🙂 I am 100% willing to try another bitter melon recipe.

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