Bitter gourd, niga-uri, which appears at my neighborhood Japanese food store during summer in New York City,reminds me of my visit to Okinawa, a southernmost, small island of Japan, many years ago. There I was first introduced to niga-uri during the height of the summer. Niga-uri is a savory gourd, which is deep green in color and has unique bumpy skin. The locals call it goya and it is known for its pleasant bitter flavor. Goya has been an important vegetable consumed by the Okinawans in the past. The Okinawa was the home of the world healthiest Centenarian community for years. Today the Okinawa residents suffer from obesity – ranked No. 1 among other Japanese living in other prefectures, adult diseases such as diabetes and much shorter life span compared to their Centenarian counterpart. Increased consumption of First Food and processed foods, forgetting about their traditional food root and excellent food culture,… All contributed to this downfall.
I love bitter food. When I see something bitter such as bitter gourd, mustard leaves, butterbur bud, chrysanthemum leaves, dandelion leaves, arugula (wild one)….my mother’s voice echoes at the back of my head. ‘Something bitter is good for you’. You can find bitter gourd’s some nutritional value at this site: http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/bitter-gourd.html
When I purchase niga-uri I make only one dish. It is a traditional Okinawa dish called goya chanpuru. It is a simple dish, in which sliced gyoya and sliced tofu are stir-fried together with egg. Some recipe adds SPAM or pork meat to this dish, and this is how I tasted it in Okinawa. (Brief history of SPAM in OKINAWA http://www.japanupdate.com/2013/11/brief-history-of-spam-on-okinawa/).
If you live near Asian food store, head to it right now. The chance of finding a bitter gourd is high. Try the below recipe to cool your body and get all of the health benefit which goya can offer. Look for the bitter gourd which is heavy to its size, crispy to touch and deep green in color.
1 bitter gourd (about 10 ounce)
2/3 block extra firm tofu, cut into bite sized slices
3 ounces Spanish chorizo, sliced thin (I happened to have this in my refrigerator, but not/never SPAM)
Kale (I happened to have kale in my refrigerator)
2 large size egg
3 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and shoyu (soy sauce) to taste
Cut the bitter gourd into half. With a spoon remove the seeds and white fluffy part (this part is bitter). Cut each half of the bitter gourd into thin slices crosswise. Sprinkle some salt over the gourd slices, toss them with it and leave them for 15 minutes. Rinse the gourd under cold tap water. Drain well.
Heat a large skillet and add 2 tablespoons of the canola oil. When the oil is hot add the tofu and cook them until both sides are golden. Remove the tofu from the skillet.
Add the remaining canola oil to the skillet. When the oil is heated, add the chorizo and cook 30 seconds. Add the gourd and kale along with pinches of salt and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat. Add the tofu and cook until the tofu is fully heated. Add the egg along with pinch of salt and cook, stirring from time to time, until the egg is done. Salt to taste before transferring to individual serving plates or bowls.