Karela / Bitter gourd or melon
Karela is not a particularly popular vegetable dish, mainly because it is quite a bitter tasting veg! Though if cooked well, this tasty dish brings a unique flavour to the table and is highly nutritious.
Coming from a Gujarati / East African heritage Karela was often prepared by my mum. For years I just ignored it, the smell, the taste was just not my cup of tea! Until about 15 years ago when I started my Ayurvedic treatment. My Ayurvedic Doctor said to drink the juice of Karela and eat them too, initially my jaw just dropped but within weeks of starting this Ayurvedic treatment I embarked on eating Karela, and now I love it! I can’t get enough of it. Like many South Eastern dishes, Karela is a skill to cut and cooking it. But like all cooking, being mindful, joyful, dancing (with some fun music) and love everything cooks beautifully, tastes delicious and heals our mind, body and soul.
In Ayurvedic medicine the juice (in particular) or eating cooked Karela contains nutrients ranging from iron, magnesium and potassium and vitaminc C, and an excellent source of fibre. It can help in managing blood sugar levels (diabetes), lowers cholesterol levels, cleanses the liver, and boosts the immune system.
Serve it with hot chapatis, lentils and/or rice.
Serves 4 people
· 4 karela
· 1 ½ tablespoon of ghee or coconut oil
· 2 small Indian or sweet onions finely chopped
· 1 teaspoons of cumin seeds
· ¼ teaspoon of sesame and mustard seeds
· ¼ teaspoon of fennel seeds
· pinch of ajwain seeds
· Couple of pinches of asafoetida
· 3 - 4 curry leaves
· 1 teaspoon of grated ginger
· ¼ teaspoon of grated garlic
· 1 small green chilli finely chopped or ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
· 2 teaspoons of cumin and coriander powder
· 1 teaspoon of roasted cumin powder (optional)
· 3/4 teaspoon of turmeric powder
· ½ teaspoon of rock salt
· 2 handfuls of fresh coriander leaves
· 1-2 teaspoons of grated jaggery or your preference of sugar
· Cut of ends of karela
· Slightly peel with a knife the skin
· Cut each karela in half lengthways
· Then cut each slice to about ½ inch
· Soak in water, just enough to cover the karela, add salt, soak for about 1 hour, this will reduce the bitterness
· Then drain in a colander and then squeeze the chopped karela in the hand, any juice that comes out you can pour in a cup (optional to drink, great for reducing pitta dosha)
· In a pan heat ghee or coconut oil
· Once warm add cumin, fennel, ajwain. sesame seeds and asafoetida, once this starts to sizzle add the curry leaves, ginger, garlic, green chilli or cayenne pepper and stir, then add the other ingredients, except the coriander leaves and jaggery or sugar
· Cook until karela are half tender then add the chopped onions
· Cook for a further 15 minutes, until onions are soft and karela are tender
· Add grated jaggery or sugar
· Taste seasoning
· Switch heat off
· Add coriander leaves on top
Karela is bitter and cooling in taste, which makes it easy to digest, pacifying Pitta and Kapha dosha, if eaten in excess it can increase Vata dosha.
To buy karela, chose the once that are slightly tender, a bright green colour outside.
When you cutting the karela, if there are any seeds inside remove / scoop them out with a small spoon of your fingers. The more seeds there are the more bitter they will taste.
Happy experimenting, cooking and eating!