“Truth is bitter but its result is sweet. Falsehood appears to be sweet but it is poisonous in effect.”
And nature teaches us this maxim through various medium. Like the bitter gourd or melon and Neem / Margosa leaves. Both are known for its bitterness and yet both of them have numerous medicinal properties, have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines.
This ancient healing fruit is not appreciated by all because of its sharp, pungent and bitter taste. It does not marries well with other flavours too, except chilli and garlic and with generous dousing of oil. That seems to mellow down its sharp and bitter taste. Like every child who hates and suffer from bitter gourd syndrome , I too had never liked it in any way in my childhood days. And to my dismay no Bengali lunch would be ever complete without “ucche bahja” or shukto, one is stir fried bitter gourd and the other is mix vegetable dish. And in the sweltering tropical summer, this vegetable was an essential and regular part of our summer lunch menu.
However, over the period of time, my mind has grown accustomed to its bitter taste and I have come to appreciate its taste. So much that I now look forward to try out some new recipes with bitter gourd. Though Bengali cuisine is never dearth of bitter gourd recipes, yet for a change of taste I try to look forward to try something new.
Few moons ago I had tried this stuffed karela at an Andhra restaurant, their cuisine was completely different from the regular Andhra food that we are so familiar with. Coastal cuisines are always different from the mainland and this one hails from the coast of Godavari, though the spice quotient remains typical of any Andhra food. The small hand picked bitter gourds were beautifully pan roasted in oil giving them a nice appetizing and aesthetic look, stuffed with flavourful mix of spices and lentils. The platter was served with accompaniments of various types of chutneys. Since then it has become our family favourite. Other than as an appetizer, you can also enjoy it as a side dish with rice or roti drizzle lightly with melted ghee.
I prefer to cook it with small or baby bitter gourds. They looks beautiful. You can try with long ones too. Carefully hand pick them because you want them to be young and fresh, no sign of yellowness or age should be there. With a sharp knife, scraped their uneven ridges and smoothed out their skin. It will allow even cooking. Dunked them in vinegar or lemon juice for few hours so that they can behave well in hot oil. I don’t love to boil them as in my humble opinion , boiling will ruin its sharp pungent taste.
Stuffing would be flavourful mix of chana dal, peanuts, sesame seeds, cumin seeds, onions, red chilli, garlic, coriander seeds, tamarind water and salt. And a final word of caution – these beauties going to drink lots of oil. So beware about it. They are pure indulgence.
- Bitter gourd (melon) : 6-8 small or baby size
- Oil for frying (use peanut oil for extra flavour)
- Red chilli and few cloves of garlic to flavour the oil
- Salt and lemon juice to soak the bitter gourds
- Onion (sambhar or pearl onion) : finely chopped (2-3 tbsp)
- Garlic minced : 1 tbsp
- Green chillies (finely chopped) : 1 tbsp
- Roasted peanuts : 4 tbsp
- Chana dal (bengal gram) : 1 tbsp (roasted)
- Sesame seeds : ½ tsp
- Cumin and coriander seeds : 1 tsp each
- Red chillies : 2 dry
- Salt to taste
- Tamarind water : 1 tbsp
- Wash and clean the bitter gourds.
- Cut them into halves. Scoop out the seeds with the help of a spoon.
- With a sharp knife or peeler scrape out its rough ridges and smoothed out the skin.
- Soak the bitter gourds in warm water with salt and lemon juice for 2 hours.
- Heat enough oil in frying pan.
- Add the garlic cloves and few red chillies to flavour the oil.
- Once the tempering is done, remove them and reserve the oil.
- In a separate pan with very little oil, lightly fry the onion and minced garlic till they change color.
- Add all the ingredients listed under the stuffing.
- Toss them well in oil. Cool it.
- Grind them in a mixer to coarse paste.
- Stuff the halved bitter gourds withe the stuffing mix. Join the other half with the help of wooden toothpick. Plastic ones will melt while frying. (refer the image)
- Once done, fry the bitter gourd in high heat in the flavoured oil.
- Rotate the sides, so that it get browned from all sides.
- Once the bitter gourds turns brown, lower the heat to minimum.
- Cover the pan with a lid and let them fry on low heat till done.
- They will become very soft and gradually will turn deep brown.
- Serve hot with your favourite chutney like peanut chutney.
- Drizzle the leftover oil over the bitter gourds.