After Halloween, Bitter Flowers…

November 2, 2007 at 6:47 PM (aubergines/brinjals/eggplant, bitter melon/gourd, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, Thailand/ Issarn/ Laos)


I’m thankful that we are alive… that’s really the only thing I’ve ever learned from this, my favorite of all western holidays, a very pagan holiday with a long history that Christianity was never able to stamp out. I always take October 31st and November 1st off from work. Always always. And I enjoy it every year!

This one was a relatively quiet one for me. I didn’t attend the costume balls at any of the local clubs of the preceding weekend. I didn’t work on an elaborate costume of any kind. Instead, I enjoyed a quiet Wednesday afternoon carving 3 butternut squashes into small jack-o-lanterns, simultaneously doling out candy to trick-or-treaters when they knocked. There were more than usual this year, and let me tell ya: some of them were quite an eerie sight! The most memorable? A mother and her three young daughters- all dressed as witches, another mother and her two children dressed as Japanese spirits or something, and the next-door kid who donned a fantastic grim reaper (death represented as a black-hooded-and-caped skeleton wielding a scythe) costume, complete with remote-controlled blood that oozed down his face. Lovely. Have some candy.

Night fell, the holiday truly commenced, and I set my jack-o-lanterns outside to ward off any stray evil spirits. By 8 o’clock the trick-or-treaters became sparse, and because I was in a sociable mood and tired of being inside the house, decided to venture out to a local haunt. Halloween is one of the western gay community’s most popular holidays, and, although the weekend costume balls had come and gone, I felt sure that this particular Wednesday would still draw a crowd out into the night. I was right! It was nice to mingle with familiar faces, most of which I thankfully recognized!


I thought I’d also share a little recipe with you. My old friend May taught me this dish, so I assume this is a Hmong dish, but it could be Laotian, it could be Thai, it could very well be known and enjoyed throughout this region. Who knows- I’m not even sure of the proper name for this dish! I tend to call it Bitter Flowers, as this is what the finished dish reminds me of. Flowers. Very spicy and bitter flowers. If you are a person who would enjoy taking a piece of lemon-rind, sprinkling it with ground chiles and salt and devouring it with glee, then this dish is for you! It is essentially a stir-fry of bitter eggplants, those in the photo above being a popular type of these (nope, dey ain’t no pumpkins), but I know of two more: a type that is more egg-shaped with lengthwise ridges as well, and a teeny-tiny eggplant often called “pea eggplant” (as they look like large green peas). All three of these are remarkably bitter and widely available here all summer and autumn in the “Asian” markets and at the farmers’ markets. Heaps and heaps of them. And I usually make this dish a few times during the season, but this year I didn’t get to it until now, and barely at that as some of my stash had become soft. Luckily, most were still usable!

“Bitter Flowers”

1-2 T oil

fresh red chiles, seeded and sliced- I used 3, but to taste…

1 stalk of lemongrass, sliced very thinly at a diagonal (discard the dry outer leaves and use the paler portion near the root end)

Uh….a quantity of bitter eggplants– such as what would fit into a pair of cupped hands…sliced 1/8″ across into “flowers”

salt to taste (yep, salt…nam pla is not used in this dish- disturbs the colour scheme probably)

1)Heat the oil in a wok over med-low heat and add the chiles and lemongrass; stir-fry for about a minute, just enough to infuse the oil with flavour.

2)Add the bitter eggplant slices and stir-fry just until until a bit wilted, but not entirely soft; they should still retain their shape.

3)Remove from heat and add salt to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature with khao nyao (sticky rice) or any other rice on hand.


This is most refreshing in hot weather, or anytime that the appetite is a bit jaded. Perky, very perky. Oh. and before I forget: this simple recipe is also used for bitter melon.


May you all enjoy the bounty of the harvest, good health, and good spirits. Et men…er Amen. 😀





  1. Anita said,

    Those are great evil-spirit guards you got there!

    And those bitter eggplants look so like little tomatoes! No bitter eggplants here…but there’s plenty of bitter gourd…it’s the end of the season for those too.

    I must say you have a very productive garden – purple hyacinth beans, taro leaves, bitter melons, bitter eggplant, and…?

    Happy Halloween to you too. The Festive season has kicked in!

    Yes indeed! Hopefully my waistline can make it through all of this…!!!
    I didn’t grow bitter eggplant this year. The plants are so very prolific that the one season I did grow them I wasn’t able to use all of them! And besides, like I said there is plenty offered at the markets. What did I all grow? Hyacinth beans, taro, bitter melons, dragon’s tongue beans, amber cup squash, “pineapple” tomatoes, and a slew of the usual herbs in pots…I could easily spend all day visiting with the plants, and actually I did work for 5 years as a gardener when I was a teen, and still I can’t manage to keep a plant of rosemary alive! Hmf.

  2. bee said,

    happy halloween to you. it is indeed a gift just to be alive.

    Its nice to have you around!

  3. Manisha said,

    He! He! I liked the dude with the slightly sardonic smile! He’s my guy!

    Never seen these eggplants before! They are so cute. I might try this with karela. I have never cooked with fresh lemongrass before. I was tempted to buy a really fresh looking stalk the other day but I knew I didn’t have time to get to it so I left it for another day!

    I haven’t listened to the song yet – speakers need to be on mute right now. Will come back for that.

    BTW, it’s Boulder tradition to have a naked pumpkin dash every Hallowe’en night. The actual venue is kept secret and disclosed only at the meeting place on that night. You are requested to show up with a costume that is easy to get out of and a pumpkin large enough to fit around your head. You are then told where it will start. So you go to the designated spot, carve your pumpkin, don it, drop your clothes and run like the possessed. Last year it was 27F and blustery but they did it. And they ran again this year, too! They have been doing it for 9 years or so and the cops show up but so far haven’t arrested anyone! Apparently it is now spreading to other cities like Seattle and Phoenix. Trust Boulder to lead the way! Some people said they felt the urge to iron wrinkled clothes after watching and many said that the streakers had been warned of “shrinkage”. I tell you, only in Boulder! Search on youtube for boulder’s annual naked pumpkin run and you’ll find a nekkid video.

    Coolness! In more ways than one… 😀 So, which one are you in this video? 😀

    This is the absolutely simplest recipe that I know using lemongrass…for sure you, with your bitter fetish like mine, would enjoy it- and for food from this part of the globe, it very strangely approaches minimalism. Over time I started adding 2 ingredients: a wee bit of kapi (fermented shrimp paste) and a clove of garlic…when I told May about this she had a “hissy-fit”… and truly, these things mar the simplicity intended. A good complement to kaeng som (“sour stew”) if you ever venture.

  4. Zlamushka said,

    Happy halloween. Love the song, guys. You re such a beautiful combo. What a peaceful post,… wanna have a bowl of tiny miny spicy flowers, too (complaining jealously) 😉

    Perhaps endive or chicory would work? Just lightly stir-fried… I bow to the compliments, but this video I found on Youtube while perusing Marcos Valle videos recently. But still…if I could play guitar and sing like that I would certainly share…masked! 😉

  5. Nupur said,

    Your jack-o-lanterns look wicked cute!
    And those are eggplants??!! They look like heirloom tomatoes, so you had me fooled for a minute. That dish looks delicious.

    Eggplants: yes indeed! Some people here buy them just for table arrangements. I’ll be sure to give your words of admiration to the lanterns… 😀

  6. Siri said,

    Loved ur Halloween post dear and added it to my “compilation of 2007 Halloween” posts. Do check out in my blog.. hope u like it..:)

    Ah! Thank you so much Siri; I checked out the post: great idea, and thank you so much for including me!

  7. musy said,

    The most gorgeous looking Jack-o-lanterns! and you carved them out of butter-nut squash! wow! THose lil’ thingies look more like tomatoes 😀 Ignorant me, he he. Never seen or tasted bitter eggplants! Do post pictures of the pea-eggplants if you can 🙂 I get bitter melons here though, so will try your recipe with those.

    and Happy Halloween, dear! Haven’t checked out the video yet, but surely will, later in the day. Have to rush now for a lil’ trip to Getty Villa 🙂

    You too have a very happy and joyous festive season 🙂

    Thank you much Musy! You should be able to find bitter eggplants in the Thai grocers- the little “pea” eggplants for sure, as they are popular mixed into nam prik/chile water. If not, crispy karelas are always nice… I love butternut squashes; the top part I saved for cooking, so they are doing double-duty!

  8. Susan said,

    Pel, your glowing-faced dumplings are incredibly adorable and cleverly cut. Halloween’s my kinda holiday. No, they still can’t stamp the heathen out of us (which was really just the old religion, for pity’s sake); if Christmas wasn’t introduced during the pagan winter solstice celebrations, it would have taken that much longer to get a foothold.

    Pretty funny the bone-faced reaper comes to your door spurting blood; afterall, once you get to the skeletal stage, you are beyond blood. Ah, well, poetic license.

    Fun post. Thanks.

    Sure…anytime! Yes, that hadn’t occurred to me at first about skeletons; I was so barraged for a bit with endless knockers that I gave little thought to “costume cohesiveness” 😀 Poetic license indeed…gross would be more fitting.

    Yes, Christmas itself is quite the conglomeration of traditions as well…I seem to recall the existence of another holiday of lights…

  9. Cynthia said,

    Love the lanterns and glad you had a good time.

    Hey, thanks!

  10. shilpa(aayisrecipes) said,

    Oh yay….you finally posted something :).

    I loved those pumpkin carvings…they look super cool…I will have to do something next year, this year was just starting :).

    Looks like you have some kind of attachment with bitter taste :D. After bitter gourd, bitter eggplants ;). Never seen those eggplants before..they look cute…another example for not trying any veggies that I don’t recognize ;).

    Ha ha ha..hehehehehehe…and still I am laughing! 🙂 I don’t think you need worry about this vegetable showing up at the Mongolian grills/barbecue! There is not even one of my family members or friends who will willingly eat these! I have to be sneaky and say, “Here, have a bite..” 😀

    I love carving jack-o-lanterns Shilpa, and I bet you would too! Some people do really elaborate, fancy carvings, but I stay fairly traditional and keep in mind the purpose of them! 😉 Martha Stewart even made lanterns of white pumpkins (not ash gourd/winter melon, but orange pumpkins with white skin) one year which were polka-dotted with mini X-mas lights.

  11. Vee said,

    Happy Halloween, Pel. Very, very late though it is. I had no idea there was such a thing as bitter eggplant. Such a simple recipe,too. And those carved pumpkins are simply cool!

    Thanks Vee! And a happy ghouls’ day to you as well! I used to become quite gloomy in spirits after Halloween had passed, but now that I have the Diwali posts to enjoy and look forward to it isn’t so bad…it’s just my waistline I’m worried about as daily I consider making things like mysore pak! I look forward to your round-up!

  12. Manisha said,

    Pel, I am not telling! That’s the fun part in this…you really have to know what’s whose rather than who’s who!

    Hehehehehe…well, I can rule out a few of them I think! 😉

  13. Vee said,

    Oh yes, Mysore Pak. Am craving them after seeing Shilpa’s post, too. I am in a very sweet-making mood this year. Not good news for my waist line either!

    Manisha, 😀

    You are priceless!

    I hear ya!

  14. mansi said,

    Hey u made these out of squash!! that’s very creative…I love the end result..great work there:)


    Hey, thanks!

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