August is really a great time of year. Not necessarily the weather; I hate hot weather! But I have to have an appreciation for the heat, as many of my favorite foods are currently in season. So many of my favorite fruits and vegetables are in their peak season right now. Tomatoes in particular are one of my favorite things to eat.
When I was a kid, my Dad and I would go to the local vegetable stand and buy giant boxes full of tomatoes. Our dinners some nights would be sliced tomatoes with salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar. My Grandmother couldn’t eat anything with vinegar due to her sensitive teeth. So instead she would cut tomatoes in thin slices and season with salt, pepper, and some sliced onion. She didn’t really eat tomatoes other ways, and she refused to eat tomatoes with mayonnaise. She told me a story about how when she was a kid, she took a giant jar of mayonnaise to her parents tomato garden and just started eating tomatoes with mayonnaise. She ended up getting so sick that it turned her off to mixing tomatoes and mayonnaise forever. When she told me that story, I remember getting a plate full of sliced tomatoes and dumping mayonnaise on them; immediately becoming hooked! Now I’m drooling just thinking about a giant mixing bowl full of tomatoes! I’m pretty tomato obsessed. Can’t you tell?
But enough about tomatoes, I want to get to talking about the latest issue of KnR Beginners. Remember how I had said that I haven’t been all that impressed this year? It seems like KnR and KnR Beginners are finally hitting their stride this year. Maybe it’s because many vegetables are going into season in Japan as well; so the focus of topics for August matches my interests. I also have fortunately been able to make more time for myself as well, so I can finally take the time to peruse in depth in the issues. My goal someday is to be able to read a whole entire issue. Maybe in another few years!
For those of you who are studying Japanese, I cannot suggest getting a subscription to a magazine enough. Its a huge learning curve, but your reading skills will shoot through the roof quickly. Also, if you find a topic you really like, then you’ll be inspired to read the material. For me, I love cooking. So not only am I learning about food/cooking, but I’m also practicing my Japanese.
For August, the main focus was on dishes featuring ginger. Even though ginger is available throughout the year, August tends to be the peak time for ginger. Some specialty asian grocery stores will have young ginger. If you’re lucky to have a grocery store with multiple varieties, purchase each variety so you can see the subtle differences in ginger. Additionally, if you can, try to find baby ginger, which is a bit more mellow in taste.
When I wanted to find something to cook, there were so many recipes that interested me in this issue. The one I chose was a bit unique, and featured a fun way to use ginger. I am not a big frittata fan, but when I saw the recipe with ginger and bitter melon, I had get the ingredients and try it.
Bitter melon (or gourd) is pretty popular in Asia. In Japan; particularly in Okinawa, bitter melon is commonly used in cooking. Its considered a health food, and supposedly contributes to the long health of people who live in Okinawa. If you ever get the opportunity to visit Okinawa, definitely seek it out and try it! But be prepared for an intense bitterness.
I first learned of bitter melon years ago, but was always afraid because of the fear of how bitter it was. I love bitter foods, the exception being IPA. I actually really hate IPA because of the bitterness. So I was definitely intimidated by what I’ve heard from others about bitter melon. I think I first tried it earlier this year by taking the plunge and buying some to put in a stir fry. I can’t lie, it is INCREDIBLY bitter. But I found myself more and more addicted to the bitter taste, especially accompanied by really salty food. Now my mouth waters when I think about bitter melon. I have strange food addictions!
My local asian market has two varieties of bitter melon. One variety somewhat resembles a really wrinkly squash. Then there is what they call Indian bitter melon. Which are 4-6 inches long and are very knobby and jagged. I believe the Indian bitter melon is similar to the Japanese variety, but a bit shorter.
if you find bitter melon, make sure you use it quickly. It begins to soften and go bad very quickly. So if possible, use within one to two days after buying. In regards to ginger, try to find ginger that does not look dried out. It should feel somewhat heavy. Ginger will last for a couple weeks, but starts drying out and becomes more fibrous.
In the recipe, it calls for “pizza cheese”. I used Daiya shredded mozzarella because I am allergic to milk products. You could probably use cheddar, or any salty melting cheese.
Ok, I did say that bitter melon is really good for you. I’m sure the cheese and eggs and whatever else probably negates the healthfulness of bitter melon, but the flavor is really what I’m going for here. I’m not a health food blog haha.
Ginger and Bitter Melon Frittata
Adapted from Kyou no Ryouri Beginners, August 2016 issue
1- 2in piece of ginger
2 bitter melons; each about 5-6 inches long
1/4 cup cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup shredded melting cheese
With the ginger, peel the skin using a spoon or knife. Everyone swears by the spoon method; I end up always hurting myself with a spoon. Okay…that sounds pretty pathetic. Anyway, once you’ve peeled the ginger, slice the piece of ginger lengthwise (with the grain), into paper thin slices.
With the bitter melon, first slice each melon into half, lengthwise. When you cut lengthwise, the first thing you’re going to see is the core and seeds. This part you’ll remove by scooping out with a spoon. Be careful, apparently in my world spoons are dangerous! Once you’ve cleaned out the insides of the bitter melon, then cut lengthwise into thin slices (little less than 1/4 inch, you want them pretty thin).
When you are done with the bitter melon and ginger, combine into a small bowl. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of salt over them and massage the with your hands for a few seconds. Why are we salting the bitter melon and ginger? Remember how I said that bitter melon is incredibly well…bitter? letting the bitter melon sit for a while with the salt will release some of the water trapped in the melon, and also reduce the bitterness. For the ginger, the salt helps soften the ginger slightly so its easier to cook. Let this mixture sit for 10 minutes, at least. When the bitter melon/ginger combo have sit for 10 min, there will be some liquid in your bowl. drain the liquid out and squeeze out excess by placing the bitter melon and ginger into a paper towel and squeezing. Pick out a few pieces of the ginger and set aside separately from the rest of the bitter melon and ginger.
While you’re waiting on the bitter melon and ginger, slice your tomatoes lengthwise and sit aside. Then in another bowl, crack the eggs into the bowl. Beat the eggs just enough to combine the yolk and white. Add a couple pinches of salt, and the cheese.
I used an 8-inch round nonstick skillet to make my frittata. You’re also going to need a plate, larger than the skillet to help flip the frittata. Place the skillet on the stove and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Heat the skillet on medium heat. Once its hot, make sure the oil has coated not only the bottom, but the sides of the pan. Add a little more olive oil if you need to.
Add the bitter melon and ginger; with exception to the few pieces you set aside earlier, into the pan, and sauté. Sauté for a few minutes, until the bitter melon has cooked through. The bitter melon will still be chewy-ish, but not crunchy. Pour in the egg mixture evenly throughout the skillet. Your cheese will probably end up in a mound in the center, so use a spoon or chopsticks to even out the cheese. Then top with the tomatoes and rest of the ginger.
When everything is in the skillet, lower the heat to medium low, and cover the pan. We don’t want the bottom to burn. While it will take 10 min or so for the eggs to cook, keep an eye out every few minutes to see how the frittata is cooking. When you see the top has almost completely cooked, its ready to flip. That’s right! Its time to use that plate I told you to get a while ago. You will also need an oven mitt to prevent burning yourself. Take the plate and flip it over, put the top of the plate over the top of the skillet. Then lift the skillet, and very quickly, flip over the skillet. The frittata will dump onto the plate. Yeah, it will be a bit runny on the plate, that’s fine. Put the skillet back on the stove and add 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Then slide the frittata back into the skillet, with the raw-ish side down. Turn your heat up back to medium, and cook for a few more minutes, then checking to see if the other side is done by lifting using a spatula. You don’t want to overcook, so take off the heat when you can lift the frittata and there is no more runny egg.
Take out of the skillet, and serve immediately.