Why so bitter?

Bitter melon

Illustration by Serene Lusano

It hardly sounds appetizing, but that’s because Americans don’t embrace bitter. Attitudes, yes, but flavors? Not so much. Looking a bit like water-logged cucumbers, bitter melons get their bite from natural quinine. Buy them green and crunchy, cook them in Chinese or Indian preparations like stir-fries, soups and curries. They’re used medicinally in Ayurvedic traditions for stomach problems and diabetes. Some Japanese beers include bitter melon instead of hops. Look for them at Asian markets and ask for cooking tips.