Bitter bite into a sweet dish

So tomorrow I am doing my second only market tour of Rapid Creek markets, for those not familiar with the produce…

One of the produce always asked about is the Bitter gourd/ bitter melon.

I have yet to perfect this into a dish everyone likes, but I have transformed this curious fruit into a few things I think are yummy. First up here are some facts-


  • Also known as bitter cucumber, bitter gourd or balsam pear this fruit is in the cucumber family
  • This plant originates from South East Asia where it is still eaten the most in China, Thailand and India. It is also found in cuisine in the Pacific Islands and Africa.
  • The Bitter melon is the fruit of a climbing vine
  • It is eaten green, but when ripe it is turns bright orange in its outer flesh and inside has bright red seeds
  • It grows all year and loves water
  • bittermelon seeds

How to grow

  • Bitter melon is easily grown from seed. Fruits will develop 6 weeks after planting. The vine can go wild. The fruit has to ripen and then produces bright red fleshy seeds. Wash off the flesh!
  • It needs a trellis to climb up and likes a full sun position.
  • Fertilise with organic fertiliser occasionally

When to plant them/ grow them

  • These can be planted all year round, but loves humid conditions (wet season) especially.

bittermelon noodles

How to eat them

  • The fruit is eaten when 5- 10 cm long when pale green in colour.
  • When younger the fruit can be boiled and served as a green veggie, when old the bitterness increases; this can be reduced by salting and squeezing out excess moisture.
  • Bitter gourds are popular stir-fried (particularly with egg) – Chinese and Thai style, but they are also stuffed and baked, often with pork mince. Indian cuisine stuffs the gourds with spicy tomato and veggies.

Wet Season salad mix

So for those of you that thought growing salad mix in the wet season just wasn’t happening, here is some inspiration… (maybe the wet season is what isn’t happening, so I don’t want to be too confusing, but hey you know what I mean, that humid sticky time of year that many plants don’t like, like rocket, that often it rains a lot and sometimes it doesn’t- that time of year- you can still grow these awesome greens!!)

Wet season leaves boardA while ago I always bought “interstate” salad mix in the wet season – things like rocket, baby spinach and baby kale. These and so much more grow well here in the dry season, but what about the wet?

Well I discovered with the help of a very good green grower (Aweganic Dan) that lots more leaves can be used as tasty greens in salads and lots of them grow in our wet season, in fact were my garden already!

Here are some wonderful and easily grown greens that grow all year and are great mixed together to make a salad mix or add into any delicious local salad…

From left to right-

Amaranth (purple)- Amaranthus sp. – Popularly grown as a grain. Great leaf, loved in Indonesia.

Amaranth (green)- Amaranthus sp.

Egyptian spinach or salad mellow- Corchorus olitorius Watch this one, it has popping seeds and comes up everywhere! Very popular in the Middle East (hence the name)

Kangkong (baby leaf)- Ipomea aquatica (TOP) Water spinach- loves a bath and thrives in the wet season. It is used in stir fries as a larger leaf or with the stem. From South East Asia.

Cosmos– Cosmos caudatus- (BOTTOM) A tropical cosmos, often planted as a companion plant or ornamental with pretty orangey flowers turing yellow, fresh and slightly bitter taste. Native to South America.

Purple Basil- Oscimum basilicum  (TOP) Basil- the easiest grown wet season herb in the world- adds a little floral zing to the salad, also can use Thai basil.

Sweet Leaf- Sauropus androgynus (BOTTOM) A wonderful bushy plant that is perennial and can be shaped into hedges. It has a sweet pea tasting leaf, grows easily from cuttings and is originally from SE Asia. It has high levels of Vitamin A, B and C. It is also cooked in Asia, but is so good raw I don’t know why you would- makes great pesto too!

Wild Pepper Leaf- Piper Sarmentosum (TOP) This is a great ground cover and certainly wild- it can take over if you don’t watch it. It is not the same species as the pepper used as spice (Piper nigrum, which grows more upright) and nor is it Betel leaf (Piper betel) although the leaves are very similar. This leaf, when young is great in salads and gives a fragrant peppery taste. It is also used to wrap food, as the leaves get large (4-5cm)  and can be added to rice for flavouring.

Young sweet potato leaf- Ipomoea batatas  (BOTTOM) is also really fantastic as an uncooked salad green- pick the youngest leaves, you will have heaps in the wet season.

And finally the flower of  Cosmos– Cosmos caudatus- petals can be used in salads and add coulour too!

Also you can use Gota Kola, Ceylon spinach and Brazilian Spinach

pesto omlete landsc 2

True Top End style- Buffalo Burger and breadfruit fries with banana ketchup

OK, so I haven’t posted for ages, a combination of not being able to think clearly through the heat and being busy cooking and working on GULP (Growing and Using local produce) Banana projects, community worshops and more!

We try and use as much local food as possible at home and during the wet season this often means a lot of ingredients lending themselves to curries and Asian dishes. Now personally I could eat curries everyday, but for some people (like my partner) that is a bit much and he prefers some more, lets say European style dishes like pizza and pasta, oh and burgers!

burger meal far

So to appease the wish for food diversity, I created a burger meal- as local as possibly. It was inspired by the banana festival (which I will be writing about) and becoming the keeper of a whole bunch of very ripe bananas which I wanted to make into something for later and decided Banana ketchup would be awesome, and then pondered what would to go with it!

The chips are made from Breadfruit (click here for more breadfruit info)  which is a tree fruit and used more like a root veggie- it is a very beautiful (but large) tree. The fruit is starchy and pretty damn tasty! These chips were from firm fruit, cut into wedge shapes and par boiled and then coated in oil and baked in the oven until soft with a golden crunchy coating. This makes them more healthy (and just as yummy) as frying.

Breadfruit chips

The burger is made from Buffalo that is very very free range- pretty much wild, from Gunbalanya station– just inside Arnhem Land, an indigenous enterprise assisted by The Indigenous Land Council and currently the only abattoir operating in the Top End. The burgers have been made at Fannie Bay butchers (A locally owned business at Fannie Bay shops).

The salad mix in the bun is a mixture of sweet leaf, Brazilian spinach, Thai basil, Pepper leaf and sweet potato leaf. There are some awesome greens to make up wet season garden grown salad mix.

burger close good

And finally the banana ketchup! Sounds crazy? Well apparently this became very popular in the Philippines, when there were many many bananas but a shortage of tomatoes! I rearranged a recipe that i found after tasting a version of this from a once only market stall at Rapid Creek Markets and thinking it was quite lovely! It involves onions, garlic, vinegar, honey, nutmeg, cloves and of course bananas and banana chillies. I will post the full recipe soon, so you can bottle your bananas or other local bananas before they disappear in the awfully unfair eradication. (more about that too soon)

There is a ciabatta  bread involved and yes we can’t grow wheat flour it is true, but the bread was made in Darwin and sold at Fannie Bay shops. I am trying to think of bread alternatives, and Kate has made a bread from Cassava, but a flat bread not a burger bun, so this may have to be from wheat style flour.

The obvious choice of beverage for this drink is a nice cold beer and luckily this is accompanied by some 99 home brew (locally brewed in Darwin, under our house using Alawa rain water from our roof), other beer ingredients obviously not from our roof- but hey the contents of beer is a lot lighter to transport without water!

jon eats burger bestThe meal went down very well and bits were saved for later in the locally grown beard!