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Bitter Melon Tsukudani

Bitter Melon Tsukudani is a Japanese simmered side dish that goes beautifully with a big bowl of rice. It’s simple to prepare and tastes both savory and sweet. The bitter melon is cooked till tender and the mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and dashi make for a delicious and super flavorful combination. Enjoy this dish warm, room temperatures, or chilled.

Bitter Melon Tsukudani, in a bowl and ready to eat.
Bitter Melon Tsukudani, ready to eat.

Why This Recipe Works

Bitter melon is in season and we’ve been eating so much of it lately!

We use bitter melon to make everything from bitter melon and pork bone soup, beef and bitter melon stir fry with black bean sauce, Goya Champuru (Okinawan Bitter Melon Stir Fry), and Stuffed Bitter Melon. Today we’re making Bitter Melon Tsukudani.

Bitter Melon Tsukudani is a Japanese dish. “Tsukudani” is a dish where meats or vegetables are slowly simmered in a soy sauce and mirin based sauce. The resulting dish is intensely flavorful. It’s both savory with a touch of sweet. Because tsukudani is very flavorful, you only need to pair a small portion of it with a big bowl of rice. We usually enjoy tsukudani as a side dish as part of a larger meal.

You can “tsukudani” many things, and today we’re doing it with bitter melon. This is a simple to prepare dish made with fresh bitter melon and a few pantry items like soy sauce, mirin, sugar, dashi, and sesame seeds.

We remove the pith and seeds from the bitter melon and cut it into thin slices. Then boil the bitter melon (to help reduce some of the bitterness). The final cooking step is simmering the bitter melon in the sauce mixture. Sprinkle with sesame and it is ready to eat!

When making a fresh batch of bitter melon tsukudani, I like eat it warm with a bowl of rice. But with any leftovers, I enjoy it cold. You can eat it any way you prefer.

Ingredients for Bitter Melon Tsukudani on a table (bitter melon, mirin, soy sauce, dashi, and sesame seeds).
Ingredients for Bitter Melon Tsukudani.

Ingredients

Here’s what you’ll need to make Bitter Melon Tsukudani:

  • Bitter melon – You can find bitter melon at the farmer’s market or many Asian markets. Try to pick ones that are on the smaller side (some people believe that the smaller ones are less bitter), pale green color, and straight.
  • Mirin
  • Soy sauce – We usually use the Aloha brand or Kikkoman brand soy sauce in Hawaii. The Aloha brand is less salty, so add a splash more soy sauce if using Aloha brand for this recipe.
  • Dashi powder
  • Sugar – This recipe calls for white sugar, though brown sugar can also be used. Adding sugar is standard for tsukudani dishes, but sometimes when I try to be healthier, I’ll omit or use slightly less sugar. Do as you please, but it is “traditional” to include the sugar. It also makes it extra tasty.
  • Sesame seeds

Now let’s get cooking!

Bitter melon, seeded and cut into thin slices.
Bitter melon, seeded and cut in half.

Step by Step Directions

Here are the detailed directions:

Prepare the bitter melon.
Wash and then cut the bitter melon in half lengthwise. Use a small spoon to gently remove all the pith and seeds. Sometimes I’ll use a paring knife to remove most of it, and then use the spoon to get out any remaining pith.

Then cut the bitter melon into thin half moon slices. We usually cut them into about ¼ inch slices.

Boil the bitter melon.
Bring a pot of water to a boil, use a medium sized pot. Boil the sliced bitter melon slices for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and then drain the bitter melon and set aside.

Note: This boiling step helps to remove some of the bitterness from the bitter melon.

Make the simmering sauce.
In the empty pot, combine the mirin and soy sauce. Then add a tablespoon of water and the dashi powder. Mix evenly, then add the drained bitter melon back into the pot.

Bitter Melon Tsukudani, in a bowl and ready to eat.
Bitter Melon Tsukudani.

Simmer the bitter melon.
Cook the bitter melon in the sauce on low heat for about 5-10 minutes. Simmer and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.

The bitter melon shouldn’t be super dry, but it should soak up all the sauce so that there’s no more liquid at the bottom of the pot.

Finishing touch.
Turn off the heat. Add the sesame seeds and gently stir to mix.

Serve and enjoy.
Then it’s ready to eat! Serve the bitter melon tsukudani as a side dish, always with a big bowl of rice.

Bitter Melon Tsukudani, served over a bowl of rice.
Bitter Melon Tsukudani, served over Corn Rice.

FAQs and Tips

How long does Bitter Melon Tsukudani keep?

Up to a week in the refrigerator, in a sealed container.

How to reheat Bitter Melon Tsukudani?

No need to reheat! This dish is best chilled/cold, and paired with hot rice.

What to pair with this dish?

Ooo so many things. We serve the Bitter Melon Tsukudani as a side dish and often pair with a main dish like:
Misoyaki Butterfish
Rafute (Okinawan Shoyu Pork)
Hawaiian Garlic Shrimp
Mochiko Chicken
Miso Salmon
Furikake Salmon

Bitter Melon Tsukudani, in a bowl and ready to eat.

Bitter Melon Tsukudani Recipe

See below and enjoy ^_^

Bitter Melon Tsukudani, in a bowl and ready to eat.

Bitter Melon Tsukudani

Yield: 2-3 servings as side dish.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes

Bitter Melon Tsukudani is a Japanese simmered side dish that goes beautifully with a big bowl of rice. It's simple to prepare and tastes both savory and sweet. The bitter melon is cooked till tender and the mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and dashi make for a delicious and super flavorful combination. Enjoy this dish warm, room temperatures, or chilled.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. First prepare the bitter melon. Wash and then cut it in half lengthwise. Use a small spoon or knife to remove all the pith and seeds. Then cut them into thin (about ¼ inch thick) slices.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Boil the sliced bitter melon slices for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and then drain and set aside. This boiling step helps to remove some of the bitterness from the bitter melon.
  3. In the empty pot, combine the mirin and soy sauce. Then add a tablespoon of water and the dashi powder. Mix evenly, then add the drained bitter melon back into the pot.
  4. Cook on low heat for about 5-10 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  5. Turn off the heat. Add the sesame seeds and gently stir to mix.
  6. Then it's ready to eat! Serve as a side dish, always with a big bowl of rice.

Notes

  • Feel free to replace the white sugar with brown sugar.
  • Adding sugar is standard for tsukudani dishes, but sometimes when we try to be more healthy, I’ll omit or use slightly less sugar. Do as you please, but it is “traditional” to include the sugar. It also makes this dish extra tasty.

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