Champuru translates to “something mixed” in the Okinawan dialect, and the term reflects the whole of Okinawan cuisine perfectly! Champuru is considered to be one of the representative dishes of Okinawan cuisine, and this style of stir-fry is found all over the region. Typically, champuru consists of a firm tofu base, cooked with pork and a variety of vegetables. Bean sprouts, green onions, and wheat gluten are all common options, but bitter melon—goya, as Okinawans know it—is the quintessential choice for champuru.
When you’re shopping for bitter melon, look for one that’s a little bit on the smaller side, with a shiny green surface that’s firm to the touch. Bitter melon comes in several varieties, with the Indian and Chinese varieties being the most popular. If you’re shopping for the Indian variety, look for a vivid green color with lots of bumps and jagged-looking edges. If you’re looking at the Chinese variety, look for a light green shade and grooves that are spaced far apart. This fruit is in season from July to September, so it’s perfect for a summer meal!
Its grassy and tart flavor can make for an acquired taste, though, so it seems like every grandma in Okinawa has a method to cut down on the bitterness. Some suggest soaking it in water, others say to salt the melon 30 minutes before cooking, and still others say that your best bet is to cook it with a healthy dose of oyster sauce. (Personally, I’ve had the best luck with soaking it in cold water for 30 minutes before cooking, but I’m not opposed to using oyster sauce!) You might have to play around with different methods to find what works best for you, but once you do, you’ll love having this unique taste of Okinawa!
16 oz firm tofu
1 8-oz bitter melon
2 TBSP oil
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into 1/4” pieces
1/2 cup cooked bacon or Spam, chopped into 1” pieces
1 TBSP soy sauce
2 tsp oyster sauce
1/4 cup dashi broth
Drain the tofu: place it on a paper towel-lined plate, lay another paper towel and another plate over the tofu, then place a weight on top of the top plate. Let drain for 30-45 minutes. Crumble the tofu into bite-size pieces, then set aside. Slice the bitter melon in half lengthwise; use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and white pith, then slice the melon into 1/4” pieces.
Heat the oil in a wok or large sauté pan over medium heat. Toss the tofu pieces into the pan; cook, stirring occasionally, until the tofu is lightly browned on all sides. Remove the tofu from the pan into a bowl, and set aside. Add the bitter melon and carrot to the pan, and cook and stir until the vegetables are nearly cooked through. Add the tofu and bacon, and cook for another 2 minutes. Combine the soy sauce, oyster sauce, and dashi broth, then pour the mixture into the pan. Cook and stir until the liquid evaporates, then serve immediately.
Serves up to 4.