Thursday, November 8, 2012

Curried Bitter Gourd

When we were small, growing up in India, bitter gourd was one vegetable we were exempted from eating.  Actually I knew it was bitter, so till I was about 22 years, I had never even tasted it.  Not to mention the looks of the vegetable.  And while typing these words I realize how we tend to judge people too by their appearances and looks and not who they truly are. In the case of the bitter gourd, the insides were bitter too, so I cannot say that the inside was much better than the appearance. 

My mother used to sprinkle loads of salt on the bitter gourd on the rare occasion that she would cook and eat it herself to take the bitterness out of the vegetable.  The salt brought out all the juices which were the bitter part of the gourd and then you washed and cooked the rest.  She would also scrape it to look smooth like the normal convention of what we expect vegetables to look at.  But this time when we were in India, our maid did some vegetarian cooking for us and I learnt a new way to cook and appreciate this vegetable.  It did not need a lot of preparation and was ready within 30 minutes. 

And most of all I appreciated the way she prepared the vegetable – it was not scraped to get rid of the uneven skin.  The bitterness was kept in the vegetable and cooked.  This was the character of the vegetable – its essence and I loved it that it was kept as it was meant to be.  There is a quote that goes along the lines of “…Torment is the fire of test wherein the pure gold shineth resplendently and the impurity is burned and blackened.”  This is what I think happened to the vegetable – there was the after taste of the bitterness of the vegetable, but most of it was gone in the cooking process.  And the after taste was so subtle, the vegetable still full of texture and thoroughly enjoyable with some home-made naans.

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4


3 Bitter gourds
1 medium sized red onion
10 cloves garlic
1 dried red chili
50 grams jaggery
2 medium sized red tomatoes
½ cup grated coconut
1 lemon sized tamarind
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
5 curry leaves
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
Salt to taste


  1. Mix tamarind in ½ cup warm water and remove pulp and keep aside.  
  2. Grind together the garlic, coconut, tomatoes, cumin seeds and dried red chili.  
  3. Slit the bitter gourd from the middle and take out the seeds.  Cut it into tubes of 2 – 3 centimeters and keep aside.  
  4. Heat oil in a pan and when hot, add the curry leaves and the mustard seeds.   
  5. When they splutter, add the onions and fry till brown.  
  6. Now add the bitter gourd and keep stirring for another 5 minutes on medium flame.   
  7. Add the ground paste and salt and continue frying for another 5 minutes.   
  8. You can now add the tamarind pulp and jaggery to the vessel, mix well and cover and cook on low flame for 20 minutes or till cooked.  Serve hot with naans or chapptis.

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