The caraille plant is also known to have medicinal purposes. I’ve heard my peers talk about caraille baths or “bush baths”, which may not be pleasant, but work wonders to rid you of any impurities; and when the time came around for a “good clean out” or cooling, I was told that it was caraille leaves to the rescue, as this home remedy always does the trick to alleviate skin rashes.
According to my research, caraille is grown worldwide, and many find the vegetable quite fascinating. Caraille is also known as bitter melon, and is a standard vegetable in East Indian and Chinese diets. There are two varieties; one is light green and resembles a knobby-skinned cucumber, while the other is darker green and very gnarly in appearance. The young shoots and leaves of the bitter melon may also be eaten as greens.
In Trinidad and Tobago, caraille is usually sauteed with onion, garlic and scotch bonnet pepper until almost crisp. It is often used in Chinese cooking for its bitter flavor, typically in stir-fries (often with pork and douchi), soups, and also as tea.
It is very popular throughout South Asia. In North India, it is often prepared with potatoes and served with yogurt on the side to offset the bitterness. In Punjabi cuisine it is stuffed with spices and then fried in oil. In Southern India it is mixed with grated coconut and pachadi (which is considered a medicinal food for diabetics). Other popular recipes include preparations with curry, deep fried with peanuts or other ground nuts,
In Vietnam, raw bitter melon slices consumed with dried meat floss and bitter melon soup with shrimp are popular dishes. Bitter melons stuffed with ground pork are served as a popular summer fare in the South. It is also used as the main ingredient of “stewed bitter melon”.
This dish is usually cooked for the holiday, where its “bitter” name is taken as a reminder of the poor living conditions experienced in the past.
In the Philippines, bitter melon may be stir-fried with ground beef and oyster sauce, or with eggs and diced tomato.
The dish pinakbet, popular in the Ilocos region of Luzon, consists mainly of bitter melons, eggplant, okra, string beans, tomatoes, lima beans, and other various regional vegetables altogether stewed with a little bagoong-based stock.
In Nepal, bitter melon is prepared as a fresh pickle called achar. For this, the bitter gourd is cut into cubes or slices and saut?ed covered in oil with a sprinkle of water. When it is softened and reduced, it is minced in a mortar with a few cloves of garlic, salt and a red or green pepper. It is also sauteed to golden-brown, stuffed, or as a curry on its own or with potatoes.
Like most bitter-tasting foods, bitter melon is claimed to stimulate digestion, and thus help treat dyspepsia and constipation.
However it is suspected of causing heartburn and ulcers.
Bitter melon is used as a folk medicine in Togo to treat gastrointestinal diseases, and extracts have shown activity in vitro against the nematode worm.
Bitter melon has been used in traditionalmedicine for several other ailments, including dysentery, colic, fevers, burns, painful menstruation, scabies and other skin problems. It has also been used as abortifacient, for birth control, and to help childbirth.
In Trinidad and Tobago, many diabetics eat the bitter gourd as a way of controlling their blood sugar. Researchers have been studying this effect on animals. Using extractions from bitter melon, researchers were able to show that, in mice, bitter melon could stimulate parts of the body’s glucose metabolism system. Basically, there is a glucose receptor in fat and muscles cells that moves more toward the surface of the cell when the bitter melon extract is present. This would remove sugar from the blood stream (much like insulin does). However, the researchers do not know exactly which chemicals make the difference nor how much of the chemicals are needed.
The seeds of caraille contain vicine and therefore can trigger symptoms of favism – an enzyme deficiency in the blood which may cause symptoms of anaemia in susceptible individuals. In addition, the red arils of the seeds are reported to be toxic to children, and the fruit is contraindicated during pregnancy.
Pork with Caraille
1 pound bitter melon
1/2 pound lean pork
1 1/2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
Pinch of freshly ground black or white pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon Chinese salted black beans
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1-2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil, as needed
1/4 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Salt or pepper to taste, optional
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut the ends off the bitter melon and cut in half lengthwise (do not peel). Remove the seeds and pith from the middle of the melon with a small spoon. Cut the melon diagonally into thin, 1/4-inch slices.
Place the sliced bitter melon in the boiling water and parboil until it is just tender (2-3 minutes).Drain.
Cut the pork across the grain into very thin, 1/8-inch thick slices that are 1 1/2-2 inches long. Place in a bowl and add the soy sauce, 2 teaspoons rice wine or sherry, pepper, and cornstarch, stirring to combine and adding the cornstarch last. Let the pork stand while preparing the other ingredients.
In a small bowl, combine the chicken broth and 1 tablespoon sherry. In a separate small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in 1 tablespoon water. Rinse the black beans to remove excess salt. Mash the beans with the side of a cleaver or the back of a spoon. In a small bowl, stir together the beans and chopped garlic with a small amount of water.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a preheated wok. When the oil is hot, add the bean/garlic mixture. Cook, stirring, for about 15 seconds until aromatic, then add the pork. Stir-fry for 2 - 3 minutes, until the pork turns white and is nearly cooked. Remove the pork from the pan.
Heat 1 to 2 teaspoons oil in the wok, as needed. When the oil is hot, add the bitter melon. Stir-fry for a minute, then pour in the chicken broth mixture. Add the pork back into the pan, stirring to mix everything together. Cover and simmer for 2 minutes.
Re-stir the cornstarch/water mixture. Push the other ingredients to the sides of the wok and add it to the chicken broth in the middle of the wok, stirring to thicken. Stir everything together, stir in the sesame oil, and season with salt or pepper if desired. Serve hot.
Caraille Braised with Beef
1 pound Caraille
2 quarts Water
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
2 tablespoons Oil
2 teaspoons Fermented Black Beans, rinsed and mashed
1 clove Garlic, mashed
1/4 pound Flank Steak, sliced
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
2 teaspoons Light Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons Rice Wine
3/4 cup Chicken Broth
1 tablespoon Cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons Water
Halve caraille and remove seeds. Slice in 1/8 inch thick slices. Parboil in Water and Baking Soda for 3 minutes. Rinse with cold water and drain. Heat Oil in wok. Add Black Beans and Garlic; mix until loose. Add pre-cooked caraille and stir-fry 2 minutes more. Add Beef and fry a bit more. Add Sugar, Soy Sauce, Rice Wine, and Chicken Broth. Braise for 1 minute. Thicken with Cornstarch mixture.
Caraille with Kalonji Seeds
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon kalonji seeds (available in Indian or Middle Eastern Markets)
1/4 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the caraille by trimming the stem ends and slicing them lengthwise. If there are large, visible seeds, use a small teaspoon to scrape down the middle of the caraille to remove them. Discard the seeds and slice each half of the caraille into 1/4-inch slices. They will look like half moons.
Heat the oil in a wok or large, wide frying pan. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the garlic, frying until golden brown, about 30 seconds.
Add the kalonji seeds and fry until they begin to pop, about 15 seconds. Add the caraille and stir well, frying for 1 to 2 minutes, or until they begin to brown.
Stir in the salt and black pepper, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the caraille are soft, about 15 minutes. Serve with rice or flat bread such as pita or roti.