As it's hot, Hot, HOT in London at the moment, dinners have generally been cool affairs: cold noodles, salads and a tonne of watermelon. I fear I'll be growing a watermelon soon. No, wait, that's just my tummy. I'll get myself to the gym once this gorgeous weather fades.
I've grown to love salads as I grow older, and enjoy making different versions of vinaigrettes, my favourite dressing. Mustard, soy sauce, garlic, they've all spent time with assorted vinegars in my salad. But the dressing I find most comforting is that made with lime or lemon juice. In Sri Lanka where it's hot and humid all year round, we drink lime juice and add lime to everything from fruit to fish to salad. And I don't know why, but the simple salads there are just so delicious and cooling. And one of my favourites is bitter gourd salad. I haven't really seen bitter gourd (also known as bitter melon) here in supermarkets except for those in Indian shops, where I normally get them.
This is a very simple salad, but there is some deep frying involved. I know, it's hot and you don't want to switch on the cooker, but trust me, you won't regret it. Bitter gourd is so named for a reason. It's extremely bitter because of the quinine it contains, and in Sri Lanka, we normally curry it and drown it in spice and chillies or deep fry it. Unlike the Japanese Okinawan bitter gourd (goya) which you can stir-fry with some tofu, egg and pork to make goya champuru, the South Asian variety is way too bitter. But it's good for you and is often used in ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.
I used the following ingredients which can be adjusted to taste:
5 small bittergourds: De-seeded and thinly sliced
2 tomatoes: De-seeded and sliced
2 small red onions: Thinly sliced
2 green chillies: De-seeded and chopped finely
Maldive fish - A tablespoon
Salt and pepper to taste
You may be wondering what maldive fish is. It's similar to the Japanese katsuobushi or dried bonito used to make dashi and is used in almost all Sri Lankan vegetable dishes: curries, salads and sambols. It adds a meatiness to the dish, tightening the flavours with umami.
First mix the tomatoes, onions, green chillies and maldive fish together with some lime and salt. Then de-seed, slice and deep fry the bitter gourd.
Once you've patted away the excess oil, mix into the tomatoes and onions, add some more lime juice and salt and pepper to taste, and tuck in!
In Sri Lanka we normally have this as one of the many vegetable dishes accompanying our curries, but I'm happiest eating it on its own. You can adjust the ratio of bitter gourd:onion:tomato to suit your taste. I like mine to be salady so like equal amounts of each. You can substitute the bitter gourd with thinly sliced and deep fried aubergine as well. And if you like it hot, add more chillies!
However to me, that bitterness which you can only get from the bitter gourd synchronises perfectly with the lime, salt and chillies creating a flavour explosion, and tastes sublime.