This dish originates in Okinawa, where bitter melon is commonly used. This is a variation on what is viewed in Japan as a signature recipe of Okinawa.
1 bitter melon, split lengthwise, seeds and spongy pulp removed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grapeseed or other neutral flavored oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, divided
3 ounces ham, lightly smoked, skin removed, chopped into 1/4 inch dice or smaller
2 teaspoons sake
1 block extra firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 ounce dashi* or water
1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar or brown rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions, greens and whites separated
Slice the melon into thin, 1/8 inch half-moons and place in a bowl. Sprinkle with the salt and toss to coat. Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes, the pour off any liquid that has accumulated. Rinse the melon really well and the place on paper towels and blot dry.
Mix together the dashi or water, vinegar, and soy sauce.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the grapeseed oil and 1/2 teaspoon the sesame oil. When the oils are hot, add the ham and whites of the scallions and cook, stirring to prevent burning.
When the onions are tender, turn the heat to high and add the sake and bitter melon. Toss to coat and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add the tofu, tossing and stirring. The tofu will crumble, which is fine. Cook for 1-2 minutes, then drizzle in the rest of the sesame oil, stirring for a minute to amalgamate the flavors.
Drizzle the dashi-vinegar-soy mixture over the contents of the pan and cook down a little and heat through. Just before serving, scatter the scallion greens over the dish and serve hot.
*See recipe for Miso Soup on website for dashi recipe.
After World War II, Okinawa, like Hawaii, developed a taste for Spam, and that would be used today in this dish instead of ham or ground pork. This dish is also made in Hawaii. Ground pork would be traditional. For ground pork, just substitute 1/4 pound or less of ground pork and cook it in the oil before adding the scallion whites. Add a pinch of salt to season it, then add the scallion whites, and proceed.
YIELD: Serves 4