Karela Rajma and Indian-style Mashed Potatoes

Bitter gourd, or karela, is one of those veggies people either love or hate. With a sharply bitter taste, as the name suggests, it can be a hard pill to swallow at least for the uninitiated. But to those who have grown to love it, that very same bitterness can be quite delicious.

I’ve written before about this wonder veggie in this post, so I won’t go through it all again. But let me just say that with its purifying qualities, the bitter gourd is said to be a miracle food for those with ailments ranging from diabetes to heart disease. It’s quite easy to find in the United States: it’s always available at my local Asian grocery store.

I usually add the bitter gourd to a kootu or a pitlai, or I stir-fry it with onions, chili powder and turmeric. Salt and a handful of raisins to balance out the bitterness, and it’s done.

My Konkani family would make a delicious karela upakari with coconut and jaggery that was out of this world.

This time, I combined karela with rajma, which is not- as far as I know- a traditional combination, at least from the part of India I come from. But I thought the nutty flavor of the rajma, or red beans, would nicely balance out the bitterness of the karela, as it indeed did, with the help of some coconut milk and a teeny bit of sugar.

To go with my karela rajma, I made some mashed potatoes, Indian style. Which means I put them through a potato ricer, then added to them a tadka or seasoning of Indian spices typically used to make potato bhaji. Because half the potatoes I used were purple potatoes, the finished dish had a mottled-lavender look that was quite pretty. You could make this with just yellow, red or purple potatoes.

It’s election night and I’m in a hurry to rush off and watch the results stream in, so let me get on with the recipes. Enjoy, everyone!

Karela Rajma


1 cup rajma or red beans, soaked overnight if possible, and then cooked until tender.

4 small to medium bitter gourds, ends trimmed, then cut into rings. Remove the hard seeds in the center, then put the karela rings in a microwave-safe bowl, add about 1 cup of water, and microwave until tender but not falling apart for about 10-15 minutes. You can also do this on the stovetop. The karela should still have a very slight bite to it.

1 tbsp vegetable or canola oil

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

1 tbsp minced garlic

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

A pinch of asafetida (hing), optional

1 tbsp sugar

1 heaping tbsp garam masala

1 tsp chilli powder

1/2 tsp turmeric, optional

1/2 cup coconut milk

Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a saucepan and then add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and asafetida.

When the seeds sputter, add the onions and sugar, and stir fry until the onions begin to brown.

Add the garlic and stir for a minute.

Add the garam masala, chilli powder, and turmeric, if using. Stir to coat the spices with oil and toast them for about a minute.

Add the karela and stir in. Then add the rajma and about 1 cup of water and salt to taste.

Simmer the curry for about 10 minutes on medium heat.

Add the coconut milk and turn off the heat. Mix well.

Garnish with coriander, if desired.

Mashed Potatoes, Indian-style


5 medium potatoes (I used a mix of red and purple potatoes), boiled in their jackets, then either mashed with a potato masher or put through a ricer.

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp udad dal or black gram dal

A pinch of asafetida

2 dry red chillies, broken into pieces

About 1 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tsp zest, if desired

Salt to taste

Heat the sesame oil in a skillet. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and, when they sputter, add asafetida.

Add the red chilies and udad dal. Fry until the dal turns lightly golden.

Pour the seasonings over the mashed potatoes. Add the lemon juice.

Mix well and add salt to taste.

I served the potatoes with the karela rajma and some boiled rice. It made for a delicious meal.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

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  1. says

    I’m the only one here who likes bitter gourd. I’ve never seen it made with rajma though.
    The karela in the curry in your picture looks interesting.

  2. says

    Karela with rajma sounds like a interesting combo. I have always used karela in a pitlai or often take the easier route of crisping then in the oven with some oil, salt, red chili powder, turmeric and hing.

  3. says

    Hi Vaishali!

    My mom is visiting me, so not able to
    blog frequently…

    Karela rajma is new to me. I make karela gravy sometimes.

    Thanks again for sharing so many delicious vegan recipes!

  4. says

    I’ve never heard of Karela Rajma before. Even I prepare pitlai quite often. I’ll try this one. Regarding the mashed potatoes, in south india we call it podimas (you should be aware of it, I guess). The one ingredient which makes it even more tasty is ginger. And also using green chillies would make it better. Lemon juice, ginger and green chillies is a winning combination. We also prepare podimas with raw plantain. Recently when my mother was here, she prepared podimas using beets and let me tell you it was awesome.

  5. says

    Hi Vaishali, I made the karela rajma today. It was so good. We had it for lunch with chapathis. My husband also liked it so much. Actually I did 2 more things to reduce the bitterness of the gourd. First I sprinkled some salt and sugar liberally after slicing it and kept it aside for a couple of minutes. Then I squeezed the excess water and cooked the slices in tamarind water. This is what my grandmother used to do to get rid of the bitterness. Adding coconut milk gave a wonderful finish to the dish. Thanks for the recipe Vaishali.

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