Today’s recipe is a vegetarian salad with bitter melon, or sometimes called bitter gourd. In Japanese this vegetable is called Goya (ゴーヤ) or Nigauri (にがうり).
The bitter melon is dressed with tofu and sesame sauce, and it’s not only healthy and light but also delicious! The tofu and sesame flavor makes the “bitterness” very gentle and mild, so if you are not a fan of bitter melon this recipe could change your mind.
When I was growing up in Japan, bitter melon wasn’t a common vegetable except for Okinawa and Kyushu island. Because of the recent popularity of Okinawan food, bitter melon is now available throughout the Japan.
Goya Champuru, a stir fry dish with goya (bitter melon), egg, tofu and pork/spam, has become one of the most popular Okinawan dishes that are featured on the TV cooking shows and are available at restaurants in the main land.
Because my mom didn’t cook this vegetable, I was a late bloomer. After I moved to the U.S., I had seen this interesting vegetable all the time at Asian markets and one day I decided to buy one to cook.
My first attempt with bitter melon wasn’t good. I can’t recall how I prepared it but all I remember was the unique bitterness of this vegetable. I have been occasionally eating bitter melon dishes at Chinese restaurants, but until recently I didn’t try cooking it again.
I gave another try last year after a few of my readers requested a recipe using bitter melon (thank you!). This time I knew how I wanted to prepare – shiraae style.
When tofu is mashed and mixed with sesame seeds and other condiments, the dressing or sauce is called shiraae (白和え). The nutty tofu flavor is exceptionally wonderful with fresh green vegetable.
There are many variations of shiraae too, depending on what kind of condiments you want to add. I used miso for my Green Bean Shiraae recipe and used sesame oil for this recipe to increase more nutty flavor.
Hope you enjoy bitter melon and nutty tofu shiraae combination!
Wish to learn more about Japanese cooking? Sign up for our free newsletter to receive cooking tips & recipe updates! And stay in touch with me on Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram.
Bitter Melon Salad
- 8 oz bitter melon (bitter gourd or goya) (1 piece)
- 14 oz medium-firm tofu (momen dofu) (1 block)
- 1 knob ginger (1 inch, 2.5 cm)
- 4 Tbsp toasted white sesame seeds
- 2 Tbsp roasted sesame oil
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 ½ tsp sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Open the tofu package and drain the tofu.
- Cut the bitter melon in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with spoon.
- Cut the bitter melon into ⅛ inch (3 mm) pieces (or thinner, if you prefer).
- Cook the bitter melon in the salted boiling water for 3-5 minutes (depending on your liking) and drain well.
- Soak the bitter melon in cold water for 5 minutes, then drain really well. You can use a clean kitchen towel to dry.
- Meanwhile, wrap the tofu with a paper towel on top of a large plate. Microwave the tofu for 2 minutes (1000 Watt) to further drain the water. Discard the excess water and let it cool.
- Grate the ginger to have about 1 tsp including juice.
- Grind the roasted white sesame seeds well. You can leave some sesame seeds ungrounded for texture.
- Combine all the seasoning ingredients in a large bowl and mix all together.
- Add the cooled tofu and bitter melon to the bowl.
- Mix all together. You can serve at room temperature or you can chill for half an hour before serving.
- Tofu continues to release moisture so I recommend serving on the same day and not keeping it.