Bitter Gourd, commonly known as ‘karela’ in India, is quite an underrated vegetable across the world due to its agonizing bitter taste! However, despite its bitter taste, it has immense health benefits especially in lowering bad cholesterol and reducing blood sugar levels. It also helps maintain the correct blood pressure of the body as it is rich in potassium and absorbs excessive sodium in the body. Bitter gourd is also rich in iron and folic acid which are known to decrease the risk of stroke and keep your heart healthy. It is also good for glowing skin and lustrous hair. It’s powerful anti-oxidants along with vitamin A and C prevent premature skin ageing and diminishes wrinkles.
Spices can create wonders in transforming the flavour, aroma and colour of any dish. In our Indian cuisine, there is a lot of scopes to experiment with condiments to add that extra zing and flavour to any preparation! And this particular preparation is one such example where a perfect blend of spices accompanied by fried onions transforms a bitter vegetable into a palatable and presentable one.
Coming on to the recipe per se, let me warn you at the outset that you will need a bit of patience and perseverance to go through the process. But the end result is so interesting that you won’t mind spending that extra bit of time! I am sure this delicious recipe will make you forget the bitterness of bitter gourd and you surely will make it multiple times hereafter!
Preparation time: 15 min approx.
Cooking time: 30 min approx.
Difficulty level: Moderate
- Bitter gourd or karela- 250 g
- Onion- 2 large
- Tomato- 1 medium
- Asafoetida or Hing- a pinch
- Turmeric powder- ½ tsp
- Red chilli powder- 1 tsp
- Sugar- ¼ tsp
- Salt- to taste
- Oil- 6 tbsp
- Cumin, whole- ½ tsp
- Methi- ¼ tsp
- Saunf- ½ tsp
- Coriander, whole- ½ tsp
- Nigella seeds or kalonji- ¼ tsp
Wash and peel bitter gourd. Cut into slightly thick round pieces.
Put 1 tsp salt and mix thoroughly. Keep covered for at least 1 hr. This is to reduce the bitterness of karela and to soften it as well which in turn will hasten the cooking process!
Cut one onion into long strips and chop the other one.
Chop the tomato into cubes.
Dry roast the whole spices, cumin, Methi(fenugreek), Saunf (fennel), coriander and kalonji (nigella). Grind in a mixer once it comes to room temperature.
Wash the bitter gourd thoroughly under running water to get rid of excess salt. Squeeze the excess water.
Pour 3 tbsp oil in a wok. Fry the onion which was cut into long strips to dark brown in colour. Birista is ready. Keep it aside.
Pour 2 tbsp oil in the wok again. Fry the bitter gourds till crisp and light brown in colour.
In the same pan put another 2 tbsp of oil and add Hing or asafoetida.
Add chopped onion and fry till light brown. Add some sugar(optional).
Add chopped tomato and cook till the tomato is mushy.
Add turmeric powder and red chilli powder. Mix well.
Put the fried bitter gourds. Add salt to taste and mix well. Keep covered and cook on a medium heat for about 10 min till it is well done. Add a little water if required.
Now add the ground mixed spices and again keep covered and cook on a slow flame for 2-3 minutes. The spices should be incorporated with the vegetable well.
Turn off the gas and keep the dish covered for some time to retain the aromatic flavour of the spices.
Before serving put the Birista on top and serve hot with steamed rice or roti (Indian bread).
Though any type of oil can be used, both refined and mustard oil, my preference is always the latter as mustard oil adds a zing to the taste.
Marinating the bitter gourd in salt for at least one hr is important as it reduces the bitterness of karela and softens it as well.
While making Birista, ideally the onion should be deep-fried. But I deviated from the authentic method just to keep the calorie count low.
Put a little salt in the oil while frying onions to make the onion change colour fast.
It’s a spicy and flavorful dish where roasted whole spices and Birista complements each other and elevates the taste of an otherwise insipid and underrated vegetable. Happy cooking!