Calling all my fellow lovers of the bitter melon we call Karaila. You’re going to want to try this recipe.
Apart from the outstanding flavour of this dish, it is another case of recognizing how a two-step cooking process of Karaila yields a texture that is meaty and extremely satisfying. If you have ever made Kalounjie (stuffed Karaila) or tried the Karaila curry I have talked about before (the whole karaila is browned and then curried with coconut milk), you will know what I am referring to. In this case, it is a stir fry, however, the vegetable is sliced and blanched first.
The other key ingredient to this dish is fermented black beans. This is not the jarred black bean sauce. Fermented black beans are made from soybeans that have been dried and fermented with salt, and depending on the brand and variety, some have added ingredients such as hot peppers and/or ginger. This Cantonese staple is also known as Chinese black beans, preserved beans, dried black beans, and salted black beans. The flavour of fermented beans is strong and pairs exceptionally well with garlic and hot peppers, which by the way, are the other ingredients in this stir fry with karaila. As an ingredient, fermented black beans bring not only flavour but umami – to any dish to which it is added. When paired with karaila, it transforms the taste of the vegetable. It is so good that you can eat the stir fry by itself. I found myself with a bowl and fork, snacking whilst watching television. I bet no one would complain about over-snacking here.
Where to buy fermented black beans – check a Chinese or Asian grocery store or a supermarket that stocks a range of ingredients related to various cuisines.
Let’s get down to making this dish.
For every pound of karaila, you will need 1 tablespoon of fermented black beans, 2 to 3 teaspoons of minced garlic, and minced hot pepper to taste. Salt or soy sauce and a pinch of sugar complete the list of ingredients.
Prepping and Cooking
● Give the fermented black beans a quick rinse, once is enough, then mince them finely.
● Remove the top and bottom tips of the karaila, cut the vegetable in half, lengthways, discard the seeds and cut into half-moon slices of ¼-inch thickness; do not slice very thinly.
● Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a roaring boil and add the karaila. Cook for 1 and half minutes and then drain well in a colander. You can reserve the liquid to cool and drink later; it will taste like mild bitters.
● Get a karahi, wok or large frying pan, drizzle with oil and place of medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the black beans, garlic and pepper and stir fry until fragrant – about 30 seconds to a minute.
● Tip in the drained karaila and toss to stir fry and cook with the beans, garlic and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes, taste, then season with salt or soy sauce and a pinch or two of sugar. Cook for another minute or until the texture is to your likeness. Do not overcook the karaila so much that it wilts and goes limp.
Serve this stir fry as a side dish just as you would sautéed vegetables for a large meal or eat it as is with plain rice or with plain rice and a piece meat or fish.