Curried Karela (Bitter Gourd)

The other day, I watched with a mixture of unbridled delight and sheer horror as Paula Deen took a slice of cheesecake, covered it with a generous handful of chocolate chips, wrapped it all in an egg-roll wrapper, and then deep-fried it.

Next, she put it on a plate, cut it in half, and sprinkled it with powdered sugar.

And then, just as I was telling myself there was nothing more she could possibly do to this delicious monstrosity, she smothered it with chocolate sauce and crowned it all with a dollop of whipped cream.

Although I would’ve loved a piece of that (so long as the cheesecake was vegan), I probably gained two pounds just watching Deen make that dessert, so I don’t think I’ll be trying out that recipe any time soon :).

The recipe I am about the share with you today is nowhere near as indulgent as Deen’s, but this one is also delicious and could actually help you lose weight (if any food can possibly do that!)

In India’s sweltering summers, bitter foods are especially prized because of their naturally cooling properties. In my parents’ house, leafy greens like spinach and fenugreek (methi) and bitter gourd or melon (karela) were often served in the summer.

While leafies are easy enough to like, most people either love the bitter gourd or hate it. With its brash, unapologetic bitterness, this ugly green vegetable with blunt, thorny spikes is neither a pretty sight nor, at the beginning, a pleasant taste.

But the bitter gourd is something of a super-food. It is especially invaluable to those with diabetes, because it is said to lower blood sugar levels. It is also supposed to improve blood circulation and has laxative properties which promote weight loss.

Besides, for any food-lover who has developed a taste for it, there’s nothing like it.

Cooked into curries, as a subzi or deep-fried, the karela’s deliciousness is difficult to match. Desi loves it so much, I make it a point to pick it up each time I find it at the Asian grocery store here. In fact, he makes sure that I don’t forget by standing next to the bin and pointing at it like a kid at a candy machine :).

This recipe tones down the raging bitterness of the karela with the sour tang of tamarind and the mellowing sweetness of jaggery (an unrefined Indian sugar) and coconut milk. It is delicious both with some plain boiled rice or some rotis or chapatis.

Here’s the recipe. Enjoy, all!

Curried Karela (Bitter Gourd)


4 medium bitter gourds. Choose ones that feel firm to the touch, do not have spots or blemishes on them, and are a clear, brilliant green.

1 onion, sliced thinly

1 large tomato, pureed

1/2 cup coconut milk

1 tbsp oil.

2 tbsp grated jaggery

1 tsp tamarind pulp

4 garlic cloves, minced or pureed

1-inch piece of ginger, minced or pureed

1/4 cup chopped coriander leaves for garnish

Roast until golden brown and then powder:

3 red chillies

1 tsp sesame seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds

Slice the karela lengthwise, remove the hard seeds, then slice further into thin strips. Cover the karela with salted water and set aside for at least 15 minutes. This helps remove some of the bitterness.

Heat the oil in a skillet. Drain the karela, squeeze all the water you possibly can out of it, and add it to the oil.

Stir fry the karela until it begins to brown. Now add the onions and continue to stir fry for another 5 minutes on medium heat.

Add the ginger and garlic pastes and saute for a minute. Now add the pureed tomato. Cook until the color deepens, about 5 minutes.

Add the powdered spices, the jaggery and the tamarind. Add salt and 3/4 cup of water.

Bring the curry to a boil, cover, and cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 5-10 minutes.

Add the coconut milk, stir to mix, and turn off the heat.

Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot.

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

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  1. says

    As far as heard from you,Deen made me scary..hha..but the descriptions followed made me laugh..totally awesome to reach there at Karela..I love this veggie as dry or a curry..Its having a charcter..
    Your recipe is new to me though.I would like to see this soon in my kitchen.

  2. says

    Karela is one of my favorite veggies…this gravy is new to me…looks delicious with coconut milk and spices you have used here…I have to try it soon :)

  3. says

    We make gojju out of karela in our household. My husband won’t even touch it, so I have stopped making it. Paula deen cannot cook anything without butter. I particularly remember one episode where she was making stuffing and she said “there is no butter in the stuffing and I can’t take it” and put half a stick of butter. That was hilarious.

  4. says

    Love the dish.
    I had seen Paula fried Cheesecake episode when I was there and sure I too put on 2 pounds just seeing that.The recipe is very new to me.Looks delicious

  5. says

    I did not see that Paula Deen episode ( I Am not a fan of her either), but the way you describe it made my head spin. Roll a cheese cake in egg roll in fry? God lord.
    LOL at the bittergorud as a kidin a candy store :-)We love love love bittergourd at home and I like this variation, feels like our dear old karate ghashi:-)

  6. says

    Nice recipe. After knowing the health benefits of Bitter gourd i have starting loving it. Bitter gourd is rich in vitamin A, B1, B2 and c and contains minerals like calcium, phosphorous, iron, copper and potassium.


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