About this Recipe
Sauteed caraili, or bitter melon, is a common side dish in Trinidad. This fruit that originated in South Asia is one of many examples of the heavy East Indian influence on the food and culture of the island. The shallot, ginger, Scotch bonnet pepper, and lemon all help to balance the bitterness, but make no mistake, the fruit lives up to its name regardless. It is assertively bitter. It’s also a nutrient-dense food, particularly high in vitamins A and C, and is thought to help reduce blood sugar levels.
A bitter but powerful pill, this one. Bitter melon’s use in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda as medicine for detox and diabetes prompted a keen scientific interest in it. Studies indicate that bioactive compounds in caraili (charantin, vicine and an insulin-like compound polypeptide-p), which give the veggie its characteristic bitterness, can improve blood glucose levels. That’s not all; caraili is vitamin ammo (rich in vitamins C, A, E and some Bs), a rich source of fiber and minerals such as potassium, zinc, and iron. Cooked in a mix of shallots, garlic, ginger and pepper, this dish packs a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial punch.
Note: Much of the fruit’s bitterness lives in the seeds. To remove them, halve each melon, then scoop the seeds and yellow flesh out with a small spoon. Cut into thin crescent moons.
- 2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
- 1 (40 g) small shallot, minced
- 3 (10 g) garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 to 1 whole scotch bonnet pepper, seeded for less heat and minced
- 1-inch (2.5 cm) piece of ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 large (about 1 lb / 450 g) bitter melons, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch slices (see note)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Squeeze of lemon juice
Step 1Heat the oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, pepper, and ginger, and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallot starts to brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
Step 2Add the melon slices and stir to coat. Add the salt and stir again. Continue to cook the melon, stirring every few minutes, until soft and browned, about 15 minutes. It might appear as if it’s too dry in the beginning. Don’t fret; as the melon cooks down it will release some liquid.
Step 3Remove from the heat, squeeze in some lemon juice and taste for salt. This dish can be served immediately, at room temperature, or reheated the next day.
Substitutions: If Scotch bonnet peppers are not available, habaneros can be used, though their flavor is not as deep
Try It With: Trinidadian dhal and basmati rice
Zero Waste: Should you be lucky enough to get your melons straight from the plant, the leaves can be used as a medicinal tea, thought to aid with stomach issues