The first course served in the Bangladesh lunch is a bitter course.  The bitter course tradition is also in the Portuguese culture.   Before every meal the Portuguese would have a dish with bitter fruit to prepare the mouth for the food that was to come.  The Portuguese settled in Bangladesh which is where they got the tradition.

Speaking of bitter I got my results from the MRI, which determined my cancer stage.  I was diagnosed as stage III.  My doctor called the night before the appointment to let me know.  He felt the news was good.  It was a relief to hear it was not stage IV, but not really great news to have any stage.

The next day my friends Jeff and Amanda go with me to my medical oncologist.  The goal of the appointment was to finalize which chemo treatment I was to do and when it will start.  I’m not nervous with this appointment as I think of it as settling on the details.

The appointment starts with the three of us seated in front of my doctor’s desk.  The desk feels large for the room and he started the appointment by saying, “since the cancer has not spread you are stage III”.

My friend Amanda yelled out, “Thank God!”.

The doctor stared at her a bit, puzzled and I realized she hadn’t heard.  I told her “Oh we already knew.  The doctor called me yesterday you must not have seen my update.”

She responded, “No I didn’t have a chance to go online, well good news.”

We all chuckle a bit as her expression is what I felt last night when he called with the results.  It hadn’t dawned on me that anyone else was so worried and concerned about my test results.  I know my friends were willing to come with me to my appointments to support, but didn’t think about the fact that this was suspenseful for them too.  It made me feel loved and I felt that I wasn’t the only one that carried the burden of this disease.

Now that we had my stage settled, the doctor is able to carry on with the real message he wanted to deliver.  He believed that I would need an additional surgery that will take place after chemo.  The reason being is that the count of the 6 lymph nodes is really high and rare.  They think it is best to have more removed and do a radiation treatment as well.  So the plan is chemo, lymph node removal surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, and surgery to put in my inplants.

We discussed again the chemo options as there was a 3 month chemo regiment and a 5 month chemo regiment.  He recommends in my age and surgical biopsy results that I do the 5 month.  I agree with him I would like to be aggressive.  So he walks me over to another room where I will get my chemo.

In the room there were two nurses behind a desk, big reclining chairs all around the room facing the nurses, and windows behind the chairs that looked out onto the city.  He explained the treatment I am planning to do with the nurses.  The nurses and the doctor discuss whether I should get a port.  The conversation took place more around me than with me.  Once they have come to agreement they turned and explained that with the lymph node removal I only have one arm that they will be able administer the chemo and I don’t have great veins, so 16 treatments would be difficult.  The port is a device that is surgically embedded in my chest and they can poke in the chemo there.

The conversation only took a few minutes and at the end I had agreed to get a port.  I’m not so excited about all the surgery, as I had already been to more doctor appointments than I think I have been to in my whole life!  However, it feels solvable and I have a plan that will have an end.  So the plan is port surgery, chemo, lymph node removal surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, and surgery to put in my implants.  I don’t even think about the surgery needed for my port removal.  That is something to think about for another day the next things are to focus on wigs and learning how to draw on eyebrows to get me ready for chemo.

In the meantime lets get back to this bitter meal made out of bitter gourd. It is a popular dish in Bangladesh that uses this fruit amongst other vegetables.

The first thing in the recipe calls for a few odd things:

  • Bitter gourd
  • Drumsticks
  • Raw rice ground into a powder
  • Mustard paste
  • Mustard oil

The mustard paste I am assuming means mustard.  Likely not a french mustard, so I substitute it for a stone ground mustard in my fridge.  So one random ingredient acquired.

The raw rice powder I assume is rice flour, which I am familiar with from some Japanese recipes.  I don’t think this will be hard to find.  It is common in the Asian aisles of U.S. markets and if it’s not there, there are a few Asian markets near me that will have it for sure.

The rest of these ingredients require my google skills to figure out what is going on.  The drumsticks, I’m a bit lost on.  I highly doubt that this is chicken drumsticks.  With my research I find that this is a common seasoning in India.  I figure I will get this at an Indian Market that isn’t too far away.  I have never heard of mustard oil, but am fascinated.  I find this is also common in Indian cooking, so figure I will find it in the same store as drumsticks.  The bitter gourd I look up to see pictures of.  This is not something common in U.S. markets, but think I have seen something similar in Asian markets.

So my first grocery stop is at the U.S. market.  I don’t find any of the remaining four items.  The next stop is a Japanese market near me.  I find the rice flour only.  Then I stop at a Korean market and the remaining three ingredients are not to be found.  Finally at the Indian market, I find the Mustard oil!


I also find the bitter gourd.

I can’t find the drumstick.  I am tempted to add chicken and call it that, but that doesn’t seem right as this is a vegetarian dish.  I look up ideas of how to substitute the spice and I don’t find anything.  So I just decided to skip it.  My friends are coming and I have now been to 4 grocery stores!  This is supposed to be the Bangladesh meal Americans can make.

The recipe also called for pumpkin.  I don’t feel like buying a big pumpkin and cutting it up, so I substitute butternut squash.  It is easier and I can buy it already cut up.

With all the ingredients I am ready to start.  Well the recipe is basically a stir fry in the mustard oil.  So this shouldn’t be hard.  The only thing to learn is how to cut a bitter gourd.  Here is the method:

First, to chop this bitter gourd-

Cut in half.

Scoop out the seeds and slice.

Personally I would have thought you have to removed the skin, but not from what I read. This is the way to eat it.

It all takes a bit longer than I expected to cook, I think it actually takes closer to 40 minutes to get the vegetables to soften.


The mustard oil is amazing and makes the vegetables taste good.  The bitter gourd, well is bitter.  I’m not a fan of the bitter gourd, but I enjoy the rest of the vegetables.


Original recipe can be found here
  •  1 medium eggplant
  • 5-6 green beans
  • 2 medium bitter gourd
  • 1/2 of a butternut squash
  • 2 medium size yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed
  • 2 tablespoons rice flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ginger paste
  • 2 tablespoons stone ground mustard
  • 4 tablespoons mustard oil
  1. Dice the vegetables into similarly sized pieces.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoon of oil in a wok, throw in the mustard seeds and rice flour.
  3. Add all the vegetables as the mustard seeds start popping.
  4. Mix the oil well with the vegetables and let it cook in low flame under cover.
  5. Take out the cover when the vegetables are half done, pour in a little water (about half cup), ginger and mustard, and turmeric; mix well.
  6. Cook for about 40 min or until the vegetables are well cooked.
  7. Pour in the rest of the mustard oil and take off the flame.
  8. Serve warm with white rice.




One thought on “Shukto

  1. My mother-in-law eats lots of bitter melon. On Guam it’s called amagusu. Whenever she eats one, she saves the seeds, dries them, and then plants them. We have a few vines around the house. Like you, it’s a bit too bitter for my liking.
    Sending you love, Kim. 💕


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