Karela: bitter gourd

June 2022

Whenever Neena Lamba prepares her mother’s recipe for karela, she’s instantly taken back to her childhood days growing up in India when her family took the train to their yearly vacation destination. Just the mere smell of karela cooking on the stove conjures up images of the passing landscape through a train window with the clickety clack sound of the wheels on the track.

But most of all, karela reminds Neena of times spent together with family, when her mom would make a picnic and everyone in the family would enjoy lunch on the train, talking between mouthfuls about what new adventures lay on the horizon. It was wonderful.

“Funny thing, though,” Neena says with a grin. “I didn’t like karela when I was young. It’s only now that I’ve learned how healthy it is that I’ve begun to admire its qualities.”

According to posts in PharmEasy, and StyleCraze, two popular health food sites, karela, also known as bitter gourd, is one of the healthiest vegetables in the food kingdom. The sites claim it is full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and while it can be eaten as a vegetable, a pickle or enjoyed as a juice, there are many benefits of regular consumption of bitter gourd. The sites claim that karela can control diabetes, aid in weight loss, promote liver health, relieve constipation and hemorrhoids, treat skin conditions, and fight cancer.

“Since the pandemic began many people have asked me to share my recipe for the bitter gourd or prepare the dish for them. I’m happy to because it’s not available in restaurants and I want to share its goodness.”

Neena is pleased to share three ways of preparing karela that have been passed down to her from her mother.

She has also generously provided her recipe for paratha, a thin bread that is often eaten with the karela dishes. “Our kids and grandkids still ask my sister and I to make parathas for their road trips. It’s lovely how the recipe has connected three generations – even though we live in different cities and different countries.”

All of the dishes are perfect for long trips. “We didn’t have food warmers back then, but it was never a concern,” Neena says. “The food lasted for the duration of the two days and never spoiled.”
Hope you enjoy trying these recipes. They’re nutritious, delicious, and with the Festival of India coming to the Marina on July 16, it’s a great way to get into the mood!

Karela as a Snack:

  • 4-5 fresh karelas or 1 pkg (300 grams) of frozen karela
  • 2-3 hot green chilies
  • 2 medium sized onions
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. dry mango powder or amchoor powder

Remove the pointed stringy ends from the karela and cut into round slices. Rub salt onto each side and let sit at room temperature for a couple of hours, then wash and pat dry. Deep fry or sauté in canola or vegetable oil until they are crispy golden-brown chips. Put on paper towel to soak the extra oil and enjoy as a snack.

Karela as a Side Dish:
If you want to deep fry the karela slices, follow the above recipe but after frying, remove the extra oil, leaving 2 Tbsps. in the pan and sauté two or three finely chopped green chilies along with two long sliced onions until they are dark brown. Add salt and the previously fried karela to the onions, stir, cover, and let sit in the frying pan covered for 5-7 minutes on very low heat. Sprinkle dry mango powder on top and enjoy!

Stuffed Karela:
Remove the stringy ends from 3-4 karelas and peel. Cut a deep long vertical slice from one end to the other lengthwise and rub salt all over the karela. Let it sit on a plate for few hours or overnight, then wash off the salt and pat dry.

To prepare the stuffing mixture, fry 1 finely diced or grated onion and add: 3/4 tsp. cumin powder, 3/4 tsp. coriander powder, 3/4 tsp. amchoor (dry mango) powder, and 1/4 tsp. red chili powder
All of the karela recipes can be eaten with any flat bread, including this simple flat bread (paratha) recipe below:!

Paratha :

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. oil or ghee
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup water (or more if required)
  • Ghee or oil as required for roasting

In a large mixing bowl mix the flour, 1 tsp. of oil or ghee, and water. Knead into a smooth, soft dough. Continue to add a bit more water a splash at a time if required while kneading. Cover with a kitchen towel and set the dough aside to rest for 30 minutes.

Pinch a medium-sized ball from the dough. Dust with flour and flatten on a clean surface that’s also dusted with flour. Roll the paratha dough into a circle that’s about 4 inches in diameter. Spread some ghee (or oil) to coat the surface of the dough circle. Fold the dough circle in half and spread some more ghee on this folded half of dough. Fold sideways to create a triangle.

Fry on medium hot heat, adding oil as necessary and cook for one minute until golden brown. Press flat with a spatula and brown the other side.

Enjoy with karela or any other vegetable or a hot spicy pickle!

Donna White is an accomplished author and Jubilee Medal winner for her volunteer work with World Vision. Visit her website at www.DonnaWhiteBooks.com

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