The sweet tale of a bitter fruit

Anuradha Krishna shows you how to make bitter gourd palatable

The sweet tale of a bitter fruit

Repeated lobbying by nutritionists for this fruit coupled with the anguish of those parents who try to force this fruit down their children’s throats  at the behest of their childhood experiences, make us stand up and take note of the aura that surrounds ‘momordica charantia’ or simply put, Bitter Gourd.

Yes, this fruit is here to stay and prove its mettle if given a fair chance. And you heard it correctly; it’s a humble fruit with a warty exterior and not that cursed vegetable in the kitchen. This fruit deceptively passes off as a vegetable due to its colour and taste.

Much documented for its benefits in the recent years, bitter gourd has found its way into cuisines across the world and probably stopped short of being transformed into a gastronomic delight primarily because of its taste and appearance.

The unabashed bitterness complemented by an almost chewy texture makes your tongue and mouth dry leaving no room to experience its goodness quotient. Though it’s palatable with all the extra condiments thrown in to appease the taste buds, it’s practically a no-brainer that bitter gourd does not top the vegetable or the fruit chart.

Best eaten when it’s still green, crunchy and watery in texture, paradoxically this fruit tastes bitter because of a high concentration of quinine which makes it unpalatable to be consumed raw.

Still quite scoffed at by the Western world, the bitter gourd as we know it, adorns a grand place in most oriental kitchens and some parts of Europe and of course India. It grows in India, Africa and the Caribbean and is found in almost all Asian stores across the United States in fresh or frozen form.

Back home, bitter gourd preparations has its desi twists as it is popular in most of the states, each competing with the other to dish out their versions. Karela or Arla in the north, and Pavakkai or Hagalakayi in the south, each region throws in locally available condiments and whips out an array of dishes which might even defy the intention with which it was initially grown.

Deep-fried Bharwan Karela, or stuffed bitter gourd with earthy spices, takes the culinary challenge to a different level. Incorporating tamarind extract with chilli and coconut paste blends flavours of the southern coastal regions. If anyone thought bitter gourd was unpalatable and scoffed at it, they have surely missed sampling hagalakayi gojju which bursts with flavour; sweet, sour, salty and bitter, it tickles the taste buds with humble élan.

The health benefits outweigh the accusations from people who have turned a blind eye at the bitter melon and scored it off their green grocer list. It has been known to lower blood sugar levels besides boosting immunity and treating piles. It also cleanses the blood from toxins and alleviates asthma and bronchitis symptoms.

With a powerhouse of nutritious minerals, vitamins and known health benefits, albeit its ‘bitter’ history, it is time we gave this humble vegetable, err....fruit its due by consciously add to our shopping list and let its goodness permeate the kitchen for a long time to come!

Pavakkai Pitla

Ingredients: 2 medium size karela or bitter gourd chopped into roundels, 7-8 tbsp cooked toor dal, tamarind extract (the size of a medium lemon), a pinch of turmeric powder, 2 sprigs of curry leaves, 2 tsp sesame oil

For the paste: 1 tsp coriander seeds, 4-5 peppercorns, 1 tsp chana dal, 4-5 whole kashmiri red chillies, 2tbsp grated coconut

Method: In a dry pan, put 1tsp sesame oil and roast the ingredients for the paste and roast till the raw smell leaves the pan. Soak in water for about 30 minutes and then grind into a fine paste. In a kadai, put 1tsp sesame oil. Add mustard seeds, curry leaves, chopped karela, turmeric, salt, and saute for a while. Close with a lid and cook on a simmer for 3-4 mins. Then add tamarind extract and half a glass of water.

Cover and cook till the karela becomes tender. Add cooked dal and stir well. Cook for a further 3-4 mins and then add the ground paste. Let it boil. Serve hot with rice or chappatis. 

Optional: Add coconut oil and jaggery.

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