Stir-Fried Bitter Melon with Chicken and Black Beans

Bitter Melon with Chicken and Black Beans-3


For my first meal of the new year I ate a bowl of apples with low-sugar granola and nonfat, plain yogurt.  It was a healthy start, I thought, and it was my breakfast of choice while on vacation but I followed that with a cheeseburger for lunch.  I was at the beach–I started each day of vacation with a 4-mile run–I thought it wouldn’t hurt.  It’s all about balance, right?  I ate very carefully for most of the eight days and now that I’m back home I’d like to continue with the mindful eating.

In preparation for this beach vacation I tried not to indulge in so much rich food but it was hard to avoid completely given the holiday meals shared with friends and family.  To compensate, I prepared one particular dish several times; one that I thought would help me get in swimsuit shape.

Have you ever had bitter melon?  Also known as goya, bitter gourd, ampalaya, depending the country being referenced, bitter melon is a tropical vine grown in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.  True to its English name, bitter melon can indeed be bitter to the uninitiated palate.  Blanching the vegetable before stir-frying it removes some of its bite but I’d be lying if I claimed that you’d like this dish at first taste (It took a few tries for my husband to begin to like it).  Ampalaya is a key ingredient in a few Filipino dishes, now some of my favorites, but I didn’t always appreciate its boldness.  It took some years for me to actually enjoy bitter melon and after a few years of it being absent from my life, I’ve had an insatiable craving for it these last couple of months.

Maybe it’s the “clean” taste I like.  Even when cooked with black beans (Chinese) or shrimp paste (Filipino)–bitter melon’s bold flavor is best cooked with other bold ingredients–after a meal of bitter melon and rice my mouth feels like it’s been washed out with soap and water…in a good way.  As cliche as this may sound, I always feel like I’ve done something good for my body after eating it.  Maybe it’s the high nutrient content (iron, potassium, calcium, Vitamins A, C, B1, B3) but I haven’t been able to get enough of it.  It might take some convincing for you to try bitter melon but if you’re up for it this Chinese recipe I came across has been my go-to for a few weeks.  I’ll share the Filipino dishes featuring bitter melon on the blog soon.  It is my goal to make a convert out of you!

Bitter Melon with Chicken and Black Beans-2


5.0 from 4 reviews
Stir-Fried Bitter Melon with Chicken and Black Beans
  • 2 medium bitter melons (roughly 1¼ pounds; found in Asian Markets)
  • ½ chicken breast (or any meat you prefer, about 4 ounces)
  • 2 teaspoons finely shredded ginger
  • 1 teaspoon Shao Hsing rice cooking wine (I doubled this)
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce (I use a little more)
  • 1 teaspoon plus five tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil (I double this)
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese dried black beans (I doubled this; these are not hard dried American beans. Sold in Asian markets, they're soft and sealed in plastic in the dried foods aisle. Not the same as black bean sauce in a jar)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced (I use at least 2)
  1. Prepare the bitter melon: Bring a pot of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. While you wait, slice the bitter melons in half lengthwise then scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Slice each half into ¼-inch thick slices on a diagonal. Once the water's boiling, add the bitter melon slices and wait for the water to return to a boil. You may remove at this time or cook for another minute or two to reduce the bitterness. Drain and rinse under cold water (to stop cooking) and set aside.
  2. Prepare the chicken: Cut the chicken into thin strips. Place in a bowl and and add to it the ginger, rice wine, soy sauce, 1 teaspoon cooking oil, cornstarch, sesame oil, sugar and pepper. Stir and set aside.
  3. Prepare the black beans: Rinse the black beans in several changes of cold water until the water runs clear. Drain and mash with the garlic and set aside.
  4. Cook: Heat a skillet over high heat. Add two tablespoons of oil then add the chicken pieces. Cook without stirring for 1-2 minutes until one side of the chicken is brown then stir fry for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
  5. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil and also the black bean and garlic mixture. Add the bitter melon and stir-fry for about 1 minute then add the cooked chicken (and juices). Stir fry for another minute then plate. Serve with rice.
Adapted from The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young.






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  1. Great post and lovely photos on the ampalaya. I love this dish. Makes me want to go rush out to the Asian market and get some. Thanks for sharing your recipe. I must try it. Happy New Year, Jean!

  2. I’ve never tried or seen bitter melon but I love the vibrant colors of this dish!

  3. I’ve never had bitter melon but your dish looks wonderful! I would think after running 4 miles in the morning you could pretty much eat what you want, good for you in keeping a regular exercise program while on vacation.

  4. I’ve not heard of bitter melon, but I’m intrigued! Love the granola and fruit… that one is a hit for me as well and a frequent start to my day. I’ve over-indulged a bit this season, and am just starting to get back on track. I’m going to track down these ingredients and hopefully get my shape back!

  5. I have always enjoyed bitter melon – in soups, Chinese stir-fries, even spicing it up with Indian spices. Your bitter melon with black beans dish will be so good with steamed rice. Yum!

  6. My goodness this looks fantastic version with chicken. I regularly make a version with pork tenderloin for my father or (pork belly when it is a special occasion). Chicken seems more neutral all the better to carry the flavor of the black beans, thanks for the recipe

    • lemonsandanchovies says:

      Hi, Belinda. Glad you like this bitter melon dish. The original recipe actually calls for beef and in the Filipino household I grew up in it was usually pork or shrimp that was paired with the vegetable. I wanted a leaner option and the chicken turned out to work here. Thanks so much!

  7. Your ampalaya dish looks so pretty that you might actually convince me to like it! I mean, I’ll eat ampalaya…if someone else cooks it for me – and cooks it well. I won’t even attempt this at home, to be honest, but if you invited me over, I won’t say no!

  8. I love clean flavours in food – it usually means it is healthy. This recipe looks like it fits the bill perfectly.

  9. I have had bitter melon on several occasions and depending on the application I liked, or really disliked it. I am pretty sure this would fall under the really liked category 🙂

  10. I love bitter melon but never had it this way with chicken and black beans. Sounds healthy and really good. I can snack on this before dinner… 🙂 By the way… Happy New Year!

  11. How great – I have now learned about bitter melon. Had heard of it prior but never really knew what it was and now I want to try it. Love, love your recipe!!!!!

  12. that looks very veeeery good! I love chinese food and been searching for a great recepe! Dont know if its chinese, but definetely looks like.

  13. I loved this recipe! I was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and in my research found that bitter melon was highly recommended as a food that could help with control of this disease. I really hope it does because I intend to incorporate it regularly! Thanks for sharing!

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