I don’t know if I can convince you to drink this by using words. I’m not even sure I should tell you what’s in it.
In fact, when coming up with this recipe, Sarah and I had this conversation at least four times:
ME: “Why am I putting this in a drink again?”
SARAH: “Because you said it’s bitter and tastes like grass, and that’s delicious.”
ME: “Was I drunk?”
SARAH: “No, actually.”
I’m not sure I believe her.
In any case, the flavor of the bitter melon, which I will call “complex ” and not “alien nose,” inspired me to create a classier cocktail for St. Patrick’s Day than we used last year.
For those of you that have never seen or eaten a bitter melon, it’s the big spiky thing in the picture:
And it tastes like any one of these things:
ME: “Bitter grass.”
BREAD SMITH: “Hmm…”
ROSE: “Alien nose.”
…Apparently, there’s a way to cook them that results in something a little more palatable, but for the purposes of this drink, it’s actually better raw. Mixing it with alcohol really does the trick. The taste is distinctly grassy and earthy, and the bitterness provides the cocktail with the same type of bitterness you’d find in tonic water, Campari, or, perhaps obviously, bitters.
So if you’re a fan of any of those things (or wheatgrass, grass jelly, or poi), don’t let this ingredient list scare you off. Even the doubtful wound up enjoying the cocktail – it’s unexpectedly pleasant. Just remember that it’s not going to be a Mai Tai. This is definitely something I would add to our other cocktails in the category of savory drinks.
The Bitter Ginger
A green chartreuse bitter melon cocktail
This green chartreuse bitter melon cocktail has a refreshing earthy and herbal flavor, and an unexpected sweetness from the Chartreuse and snap peas. It comes together in a surprisingly balanced (at least I was somewhat surprised) and tasty drink. But just so you can’t say I fooled you, it does taste like its ingredients. They mingle to create a distinct flavor that, like Chartreuse and bitter melon, is not for everyone, but if you like herbal or savory cocktails, you’re in the right place.
You can likely find bitter melon at an ethnic market, and the whole thing can be eaten – even that formidable looking outer skin, which is actually what we used in this drink.
- Cocktail shaker
- 2 oz. green Chartreuse
- 3 slices of bitter melon, about 1/3 inch thick
- (halve the bitter melon and scoop out the inside – we want three slices of the “rind”)
- 5 sugar snap peas, cut into thirds
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 4 thick slices of cucumber
- 3 oz. ginger beer (ginger ale won’t provide the same kick, so the distinction is important!)
How to Put It in Your Mouth:
- Put the vegetables in the bottom of your cocktail shaker with the lemon juice – how many times will I get to say that in my life, I wonder – and muddle. Muddle the crap out of it. Make it wish it had been born as mashed potatoes.
- Now add the Chartreuse, ice, and shake it with the same vigor that you muddled it. Strain over a glass of new ice, top with the ginger beer, and serve garnished with lemon – or with a slice of raw bitter melon, if it’s for someone you don’t like.
Enjoy! (And despite the potentially off-putting descriptions, you will.)
Photography by Sarah Alice Photography (sarahalice.net)