“What? Karela??? Ewwww….Not Again!!! I am NOT eating it”. My mother found herself being bombarded with utter resentment every time she announced she made karela, followed by prolonged looks of disgusts if she tried to force us as kids to even taste it. Despite all the cajoling, bribing and numerous sermons about the good health benefits of this crocodile skin looking vegetable, this was one thing that was just not welcome on our plates. She tried fried karela. She tried stuffed karela. She tried extracting the bitterness out of karela, to no success. Karela was forbidden territory for us. Eventually she threw in the towel, and started making another vegetable dish for us on days she made karela.
After I got married, I found out, much to my dismay and annoyance, that my husband loved karela and that too in any form. I agree that the bitter taste is acquired, and it took me many years to get accustomed to it. So it was a shock for me to find out the other day that my 6 year old actually asked for a taste of karela, and claimed to relish it! Excited, I called up my mother and told her triumphantly that her grandson liked karela. Already!
Recently, my dear friend from university met up with me after 22 years, and we were talking about recipes and differences between north and south indian food. Of all the blessed vegetables in the world, she surprised me by asking me for some karela recipes, with special instructions that she did not want the bitterness to be extracted!! Salting karela to get the bitterness out is optional. I find that kids are more likely to eat karela with the bitterness gone. The juice can always be had separately, but beware! Your mouth will be smarting from the taste for quite some time thereafter. So Sudha…this one’s for you!
- 1.5 lbs raw green bitter gourd (karela) pods
- 1-1.5 tsp salt (for sprinkling)
- 1.5 Tbsp oil for cooking (I prefer mustard oil, but refined oil works well too)
- 2 Tbsp corriander seeds (dhaniya whole)
- 1 Tbsp fennel seeds (saunf whole)
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds (methi whole)
- 1/2 tsp onion seeds (kalonji whole)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 3/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
- 3/4 tsp amchur (dry mango powder)
- 1 large onion (grated)
Cut off the ends of the karela and scrape the skin gently using a vegetable peeler to get the rugged skin off. This is the most bitter part and can be blended to get the juice out for ingestion.
Wash the pods and make a slit on each pod, taking care the slit does not extend to the ends. Remove any overripe red seeds and pulp. Slightly open the slits and sprinkle with a little salt all over. Salting is optional to remove excess bitterness. Leave aside for about 30-45 mins. You will notice the karela releasing some of its juice. You can collect this and drink it (but it does have too much salt) or discard it.
Meanwhile, dry roast all the seed ingredients separately, one by one. Make sure all the the raw smell goes away, and the corriander, fennel and methi seeds are slightly golden. The kalonji seeds will turn a little grey. keep this aside. Dry grind the corriander, fennel and fenugreek seeds to a fine powder and keep in a bowl. Mix onion seeds, salt, chilli powder, amchur, turmeric and grated onion, and mix well to bind. Now stuff this mixture in the karela pods.
I prefer to microwave these for about 3-4 mins on high, covered. This cooks them partially, reducing the need for excess oil. Now pour the mustard oil in a frying pan and place the pods gently in the oil once hot. Cover and cook on medium, turning them every 5-6 minutes. Prick with a knife to check if done.
Serve hot with rotis or rice, and dal. Tastes exceptionally good with simple paranthas too. You see, there is flavor, even in bitterness!