Bitter melon (also known as bitter cucumber, bitter gourd or karela) is an acquired taste. That’s a polite way of saying a lot of people dislike it. As the name reminds you, it is bitter, but when cooked properly, it can be a delicious side dish. It is also very nutritious. One of bitter melon’s many properties is that it’s supposed to lower your blood sugar, so it’s worth working it into your diet.
I’ve posted several Asian-style bitter melon recipes, but today I cooked it the way my father-in-law likes it. Compared to the Asian variety, Indian bitter melon (or karela) is much smaller and darker, and is covered with spikes. For this recipe, the karela is cut into chunks, fried and stuffed with chana dal. The fried rings of bitter melon are then simmered in masala tomato sauce. Fried onions and amchur, or dried mango powder, cut the bitterness and balance the flavors. You’ll still know you’re eating bitter melon, but you just might like it!
1. Info for Stuffed Karela Recipe (Indian Bitter Melons with Chana Dal)
- Cook Time: 15 mins
- Total Time: 30 mins
- Servings: 6
- Calories: 128kcal
2. Ingredients for Stuffed Karela Recipe (Indian Bitter Melons with Chana Dal)
- ¼ cup chana dal (see tips)
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup canola oil (or any neutral oil)
- 4 Indian bitter melons
- juice of half a lemon
- 3 medium-sized tomatoes, preferably ripe
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 2 jalapeño peppers
- 1-½ tablespoons ginger garlic paste
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon red chili powder
- 2 tablespoons chickpea flour (optional)
- 3/4 teaspoon garam masala
- ¼ teaspoon dried mango powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- 1-½ teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon cilantro, for garnish
- Prepping the chana dal: In a bowl wash the chana dal thoroughly. Pick out and discard any badly-shaped beans, then soak them for at least 30 minutes. Drain as much liquid as possible. Set aside.
- In a saucepan, combine the soaked chana dal, 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste, turmeric powder and red chili powder. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of oil (I used garlic-infused oil). Add water; the water should cover the lentils entirely. Bring to a boil then lower to a gentle simmer for about 35-40 minutes. Add salt half-way through the cooking process (it will bring out the natural flavor of the lentils and the lentils will be more tender) and keep stirring every now and then so the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. The liquid should have evaporated. Remove any liquid (if any).
- Check doneness: The chana dal should be soft when gently pressed and crushed between your thumb and index finger.
- Note: For a faster cooking time, you could also cook the lentils in a pressure cooker. It would take only 15 minutes.
- Prepping the jalapeño: Stem, seed and finely chop one of the jalapeño peppers. Using a paring knife, create a 2-inch incision in the remaining whole pepper.
- Note: remember not to rub your eyes after touching jalapeño pepper seeds.
- Prepping the bitter melons: Cut the bitter melons in half. Using a melon ball scoop, remove and discard the spongy center and the seeds. Soak the bitter melons in lemon water for 5-10 minutes.
- Remove and discard the liquid from the bitter melons. Cut each piece into thick slices. Pat them dry.
- In a deep saucepan, heat the oil and fry the bitter melons until golden. Once cooled enough to handle, stuff them with the chana dal.
- This step is optional but I find tomato skin unpleasant to chew. Here’s a neat method to peel tomatoes. Make a small, shallow criss-cross cut at the bottom of the fresh tomato using a bread knife (I use a bread knife because the blade won’t bruise the fruit). Fill a small saucepan with cold water and bring to a boil. Place the tomato in the water and wait for at least 30 seconds. Remove the tomatoes quickly (I use a large strainer or a slotted spoon), then transfer to an ice cold bath to stop the cooking process. The skin of the tomatoes will come right off. Coarsely chop the tomato flesh. Set aside.
- Assembly time: In the same saucepan, there should be about 2 tablespoons of oil (remove and discard any extra). Add the onions. Cook for about 5 minutes until the onions become translucent. Add the remaining ginger garlic paste and jalapeño peppers to the onions. Stir well. Add the tomatoes, garam masala, chickpea flour and a little water (about 3-4 tablespoons). Bring the liquid to a boil, add dried mango powder then lower the heat to medium-low and cook for about 10 minutes. Place the stuffed bitter melons in the tomato masala sauce, cover with a lid and cook for about 5-8 minutes. Check the seasoning. Add more salt (if necessary) and black pepper.
- Serve warm.
- Bon appétit!