Bitter Melon Chips with Coconut

-Recipe from Yamuna mataji

         Srila Prabhupada was so fond of bitter melons that he requested them in one form or another nearly every day lunch. Like most Bengalis, he regarded the vegetable as both a digestive aid and appetite stimulator. Because they are not always easily available, he requested his personal cook to keep a stock of dehydrated sliced bitter melons on hand for world wide traveling. To this day, I try to keep a jar of dried bitter melon slices in the larder, used primarily for this recipe. Dried bitter melon is less pungent than fresh, and deep-fried, it is far crunchier. The wafers fry in seconds, and even for newcomers, are quite irresistible.
      Bitter melons, also called bitter gourds or balsam pears, are an important vegetable in eastern and southern cuisines. They are spiny melons, 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) long, thickish in the middle and pointed at both ends. Always look for small melons, picked immature, that are dark green in color and heavy for their size. In Bengal the bitter melons are fried in mustard or peanut oil until dark brown and crisp. To tone down the bitterness, the chips are coated with powdered fresh coconut and seasonings. Serve 4-6 chips per person as as appetizer-relish with a dab of pickle or chutney.

Preparation and salting time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 10-15 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6
4 small or medium-sized bitter melons (about pound/230 g)
4 table spoons (60 ml) mustard or peanut oil
teaspoon (1 ml) turmeric
teaspoon (1 ml) paprika or cayenne pepper
cup (25 g) grated fresh or dried coconut
table spoon (7 ml) lemon or lime juice

1.    Trim the ends off the bitter melons and slice crosswise into rounds inch (6 mm) thick. Place them in a bowl, sprinkle liberally with salt and place a weight on them. Set aside for at least hour. Rinse under running water, drain, and pat dry with paper towels.
2.    Heat the oil in a 7-9 inch (17.5-22.5 cm) frying pan over moderate heat. (If using mustard oil, allow it to reach the smoking point before adding the vegetables. This makes the pungent oil docile). When it is hot, add the bitter melon rounds and stir-fry, cooking on both sides, until crisp and reddish-brown, from 10-15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, add the remaining ingredients and teaspoon (1 ml) salt, and toss well. Serve hot or at room temperature.