Steamed stuffed bittermelon

Steamed Stuffed Bittermelon

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It seems like I’ve grown to love eating vegetables slowly again. With an array of choices in the grocery, I can easily pinpoint which kind I want and for what.

At work, there are a variety of potatoes, eggplants, carrots, mushrooms, zucchinis, and onions delivered either weekly or daily and, the funny thing is, red, yellow and green bell peppers seem to be never out of style. I don’t know how much bell peppers and onions I have diced for the last how many years. All these are almost always in the walk-in fridges of the kitchens I have worked with. It’s a never ending dicing and chopping. Of course, tomatoes, bread and eggs will always be there, and you can also include celery in the line-up. They’re a big part of a happy family so to speak. What’s even funnier though is these vegetables also come in a variety of packages: fresh in a box or bag, pre-packed and processed for ready use, frozen, canned or in a tub. Depending on where you’re eating and at what price range, many if not all, practice a combination of these vegetables. The restaurant manages a melange of these fresh and pre-packaged items specifically for fast and easy use by the cooks; a part of an entire cost control measure. And yes, some sauces are instant and they also come in commercial size packages or plastic containers.

Anyway, my fridge doesn’t carry these vegetables at all. I buy them as need be. What’s in it though is a variety ‘choys;’ green leafy Chinese vegetables which I truly love. I can eat these ‘choys’ steamed or fried by themselves, and I already have a lunch fix for the day. I would usually just buy a small handful of one or two kinds of ‘choy’ just to keep them as fresh as possible and to prevent spoilage. If ever I do have some red or green bell peppers standing-by, I would usually combine them with either beef sirloin or lean pork or blend them in tomato sauce. That way, I can somehow enjoy both and at the same time clean my fridge of leftovers. I may not have so much in my freezer or fridge, but I have a variety of sauces and spices to enhance the flavours of the food I cook. Fresh herbs are bought occasionally.

I had this opportunity of cleaning my fridge when I made some Spring Rolls and Pork with Bittermelon about a couple of weeks ago. In my case, a pound of ground pork or beef goes a very long way, thus I seldom buy them. I can stretch my ground pork, for example, for three dinners, cooking each one differently from the other or having one dish for three nights; either way. I add or subtract ingredients and marinade the grounded meat with a variety of spices for days on end just to make it more savoury and let it last a little longer.

I generally just feed myself whatever I bought a week ago especially when I had a long day at work, and I can’t usually buy as much even if I wanted to. I have a very limited freezer space. I did that when I made my Spring Rolls. I was trying to get rid of leftovers, and I ate the same for three nights. In commercial scale, these sizable amounts of leftover or inventory are either frozen or become their daily specials. Both theories come into practice at home and at work. Just let your imagination do the work when you see daily specials written on chalk boards.

Pork Stuffing Marinade:
1 lb. ground Pork
Green Onions
Soft Tofu
Lime Juice
Brown Sugar
Light Soy Sauce
Dark Soy Sauce
Oyster Flavoured Sauce
Shaoxing Cooking Wine
Sesame Oil
Salt & Pepper
And 1 to 2 Pcs. of Bittermelon

Cut the bittermelon into three, and using a teaspoon, core and scoop out the seeds.

Using the same teaspoon, spoon in some of the pork mixture into the hollow area and push it down until the bittermelon is tightly packed.

Place the three stuffed bittermelon in a plate and steam them using a bamboo steamer until cooked.

The juice will flow out of the core while steaming. Make sure the plate you’re using is deep enough to save all those juices. For this dish, I saved the juices and mixed it with the condiment. It’s like pork stock and it enhances the condiment; adding extra, extra flavour to every bite.

Condiment: to taste
Light Soy Sauce
Filipino Soy Sauce
Minced Garlic
Salt & Pepper
Mirin (Rice Vinegar)
Sesame Oil

Optional: Chilis/Onions

The stuffing mixture I used is the same pork mixture I made for my Spring Rolls. I’m really not sure if this dish can fall under ‘mains,’ but I think I’d classify it more under ‘small-bites.’ I’ve grown to love eating in small portions nowadays; reducing my rice intake, and enjoying each bite of those savoury and sometimes sweet teasers. I’d switch my rice with plain, white buns with nothing inside anytime, and that’s dinner. I recently discovered where to buy fresh ones in Chinatown and had never stopped visiting thereafter.

I’m still quite surprised though that many Filipinos continue to pair it with not just a small, typical Chinese bowl of rice, but with large, plateful of steamed rice during special gatherings; just a thought. I see things when I’m usually by myself; little things.

Going back to ‘Choys, probably the perfect combination with this one would be the Chinese Broccoli. It’s a classic on its own and perfect match to many.

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When I was growing up, my parents and I used to eat out and try different restaurants after celebrating the Sunday Mass. Moreover, during the course of the summer break, I had the opportunity to see some places which, when looking back, I had never realized how lucky I was as a teen to be able to travel. My family and I went to Europe and some parts of the United States, and what I saw along that path of my life inspired me to become a 'Chef.' The 'whites' they wore for me, during those growing-up and finding 'myself' years, portrayed a sort of fascinating and powerful figure in an extremely sophisticated, higly inviting and invigorating work place; and still maintain an unblemished and clean uniform after a very busy service. That picture of a 'Chef' stuck to my head for so many years.

True enough, with meager resources left to spend for the youngest, that dream never happened. Life went on. I went to university and studied an insignificant course, Business Management, and after graduating, I ended up working as a Credit and Financial Analyst in the banking industry in Manila; slugging it out in the corporate arena in Makati. It was the first taste of being called a 'yuppie' and was almost always looking forward to an after-office eating and drinking extravaganza in the expanding and growing Makati Business District; and, of course, the weekend.

Anyway, forging ahead to my life today, that dream as 'Chef' stayed in the back of my mind all the time that when I left the Philippines for Toronto in 2003; and after finally settling down on my own in 2005, I had started studying Professional Culinary Arts Courses in the City College to get that almost long-forgotten 'dream' going again. It was a Continuing Education Course, and more or less, students who have also shifted careers or who were trying to find work (like myself) as a newly landed found ourselves working with pots, knives and fire which I believe and I felt, everyone in class have never, ever touched during their past, professional lives.

Since then, I have been working in and out of different kitchens; flipping eggs and hamburgers, grilling steaks, shoving bread and chicken in a 500'C oven, and almost anything that can be either deep-fried or toasted just to serve hungry, sometimes pesky, customers. I became a 'grease' cook; a short-order cook with no definite place of employment, and definitely not a 'Chef.'

My articles are based on the after-thoughts of my past and present day experiences in this fast-paced, starkling, and sometimes disheveling kitchen environment. I never imagined that a kitchen 'worklife' turned that way as against the 'Ideal' environment I had thought about for years. No regrets. During this journey, I've discovered food which I've never thought I'd be able to taste. I learned to appreciate wine and travel more; now that I have understood the culture of food to society. That was non-existent when I was growing up.

This journey has not ended. I'm still discovering and still learning. It's a tough industry to be in and for what's next or for where I'll finally end up in remain a sordid mystery.

2 thoughts on “Steamed Stuffed Bittermelon

    1. So creative, right? Makes me want to do anytime soon. My boys would probably scoop out the filling but I don’t mind having the bitermelon all by myself haha!

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