Goya Goodness

Thanks to the kindness of my friend Jan, I had a goya-lovin’ evening in the kitchen today. She had lunch in Chinatown with friends and offered to pick up some bitter melon for me.  This particular variety of bitter melon (smaller and darker) is commonly used in Okinawan cooking. It’s elusive and you generally won’t find it in your neighborhood Safeway.  I’ve only been able to find this type of bitter melon in the Chinatown markets, so it’s a rare treat for me when I am able to get my hands on these bitter little fruits.

Most people don’t care for bitter melon. It probably ranks higher than brussel sprouts on the most loathsome ingredients list because of its bitter flavor.  Bitter melon, or “goya” as it is known in Okinawa, is highly prized, renowned for its health benefits.  In fact, if Okinawa had a national fruit, goya would be it.  It is definitely an acquired taste and only took me about 30 years to actually begin to enjoying it.  It’s hard to call yourself an Okinawan if you can’t eat goya and love it.

When preparing the goya, I parboil it, mostly to clean the skin since it is not peeled.  Then I trim the ends and slice it in half to remove the seeds.

After removing the seeds, I thinly slice the goya.  Better not to bite into a big chunk of the bitterness, especially if your taste buds aren’t accustomed to it.  Here’s the secret: place the sliced goya into a bowl, sprinkle with salt and gently massage it into the bitter melon to coat it. Add cold water and let it stand for about 15 minutes, then rinse and drain.  The salt tempers the bitterness.

Marukai had a sale on the goya champuru (bitter melon stir fry) seasoning, so I picked up a few packages.  So, yes, tonight I cheated and didn’t season it myself.  I have to say, I don’t know what’s in it, but I really like this flavor packet!

Today, since I got a late jump on dinner, I made a simple version of champuru. Instead of pork or tuna, I used some leftover rotisserie chicken.  I also added tofu and eggs.  Simple, yet delicious and healthy.

Here’s my simple goya champuru recipe, using the flavor packet.  If you don’t have access to Marukai, you can check out the recipe on my About page for a recipe that uses standard ingredients.

Easy Goya Champuru
(Bitter Melon Stir Fry)

1 tsp vegetable oil
1 large goya (or if you can find the small ones, you’ll need a bunch of those)
1 block of tofu
1 can of tuna (I used leftover rotisserie chicken. You can also use pork. Rafute (Okinawan shoyu pork) is especially good with this!)
3 eggs, beaten
2 packets of goya champuru seasoning (shown above)

To prepare goya, slice lengthways and remove seeds; gently scraping the inside with a spoon to remove all of the core. Chop thinly and place goya into a bowl. Add salt to the chopped goya and gently massage until thoroughly coated (this will temper the bitterness). Add cold water and let sit for 15-30 minutes. After soaking, rinse off salt completely and set goya aside.

Using medium-high heat, saute oil, chicken, and tofu cubes until browned, then add goya.  After goya is tender, add eggs and flavor packet and toss mixture until thoroughly coated – taking care not to overcook.

Since Jan bought a good amount of goya for me, I even had enough to make some goya namashi (similar to the Japanese namasu, which is a salad in sweet vinegar sauce).  I’m reserving the tasting of this dish until tomorrow since it needs time for the marinade to work its magic.

Goya Namashi

5 cups thinly sliced prepared bitter melon
1/2 cup thinly sliced wakame
1 oz fine julienne ginger
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1. Place thinly sliced bitter melon in the bottom of mixing bowl and sprinkle with salt
2. Gently rub salt into the bitter melon and add in remaining ingredients
3. Stir well until all sugar and salt dissolves, then refrigerate for 3 hours before serving
4. You can serve it with the marinade or drain it and squeeze the bitter melon well before serving

Goya, it’s what’s for dinner!  🙂

Originally posted on my (now private) blog, in April 2009.

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