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. I also love this stuffed bitter melons dish that I sometimes make.
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!
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.
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.