Prepping the bitter melons: Cut the bittermelons in half. Using a melon ball scoop, remove and discard the spongy center and the seeds. Soak the bitter melons in lemon water.
Prepping the tomato: This step is optional but I find tomato skin unpleasant to chew. Here's a neat method to peel tomatoes. Make a small, shallow criss-cross cut at the bottom of the fresh tomato using a breadknife (I use a breadknife because the blade won't bruise the fruit). Fill a small saucepan with cold water and bring to a boil. Place the tomato in the water and wait for at least 30 seconds. Remove the tomatoes quickly (I use a large strainer or a slotted spoon), then transfer to an ice cold bath to stop the cooking process. The skin of the tomatoes will come right off. Cut the tomato flesh into wedges, remove the seeds and liquid and chop into small pieces. Set aside.
Prepping the tofu: Cut the tofu into ½-inch slices. In a wok, heat the canola oil. Pan-fry the slices on both sides until golden. The tofu should have a nice fried outer crust and still be moist inside. Transfer the tofu onto paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Allow to cool a little. As soon as the tofu is not too hot to handle, cut each slice crosswise into shreds.
Prepping the bean thread noodles: Place the dried bean thread noodles in a bowl. Don't forget to cut the little cotton threads and discard them! Soak them in cold water for 20 minutes and drain. Cut into 1 inch lengths. Set aside.
Preparing the ground tofu paste: In a food processor, blend the fried tofu, tomato flesh and the vegetarian ham together. Add the red food coloring (if used). Mix well. Add the shallot, ginger garlic paste, red chili powder, 1 teaspoon sugar, green onions, bean thread noodles, 1 teaspoon of oil and season with mushroom salt and pepper. Set aside.
Stuffing the bittermelon with ground tofu:
Remove and discard the liquid from the bitter melons. Cut each piece into 2-½" boats. Pat them dry and stuff them with the ground tofu mixture.
Steaming the dumplings:
Place the stuffed bittermelons in a steamer, bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-high. Cover and steam for about 15-20 minutes. Check doneness with a fork; the bittermelons should be still be al-dente as they will finish cooking in the hoisin sauce. Remove from the steamer. Let them cool a little.
Pan-frying the dumplings:
In a non-stick pan (I used a non-stick grill pan), heat the oil and pan fry the dumplings, tofu side down. Transfer onto a platter.
For the hoisin sauce:
In a blender, blend the crushed pineapple into a smooth texture.
In the same pan, add the rest of the sugar, hoisin sauce and soy sauce. Stir constantly until all the soy sauce is absorbed. Add the pineapple purée. Once the liquid evaporates, add the dumplings, bittermelon side down. Drizzle with sesame oil (if used). Check seasoning (the saltiness from the soy sauce should be sufficient). Add black pepper. Cover with a lid. Let stand on high heat for a minute and turn off the heat. Keep on the stove for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter.
Serve with jasmine brown rice (it's healthier and as delicious as regular jasmine rice).
Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.
You can find all the ingredients listed in most Asian stores.
I buy vegetarian ham in the frozen sections of Asian markets. The color and texture is very similar to meat.
I use ginger garlic paste a lot in my cooking. It tastes great and is very healthy for you as well. Just clean the ginger, carefully removing any dirt. Peel the ginger root with a paring knife or the edge of a spoon, then finely chop the root. Place the chopped ginger and 5 cloves of garlic in a blender and, add about 2 tablespoons (or more) of water for a smooth flow. Transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator. You can keep this paste for at least a week in the refrigerator.
I use Thanh Son tofu brand. If you live in the Bay Area, you have to try it. They sell in almost all the Asian markets in downtown San Jose, and their main shop is on 2857 Senter Road, San Jose. It's a very little shop but everything is very good. Their tofu has the best texture; it's made fresh daily. I also like Golden Gate tofu brand; just make sure to look for the firm version.
My favorite soy sauce is the Da Bo De brand. It has a very nice flavor and is not too salty. You can find this particular sauce at, for example, Dai Thanh Asian market on 420 S 2nd St, in San Jose. Make sure the bottle says nước tương chay, which means vegetarian in Vietnamese.
Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct, earthy flavor to the tofu filling. You can find it at gourmet specialty stores or in most Korean stores. I buy mine at Marina Foods -10122 Bandley Drive -Cupertino, CA 95014.