Karela with kachori masala - Bitter gourd made better

As a child, I didn't have the choice to avoid any foods. Whatever was made at home, I had to eat - and while at that time I hated the rules, I now realise that thanks to this, I appreciate all kinds of foods today.

Bitter gourd was one exception though at that time, where I would have the option to eat something else instead. My grandmother didn't have the heart to force a kid to eat this bitter vegetable. So when I started cooking myself, I would not be interested in buying it in the first place. However in the last few years, this one, like eggplant has gotten added to my weekly shopping list. Whether it's Pavakkai pitlah, Bitter gourd and ripe mango Ayurvedic curry or a dry spice-rich curry like the one below, it's really not that bad, especially when made with all kinds of spices. I usually don't like to drown a vegetable's original taste in spices, but something like bitter gourd really needs that kind of treatment - as the only bitter thing i like to eat as it is, is dark chocolate.

Bitter gourd is very very good for you. Especially if you want to control your blood sugar levels or you are after that flat belly. Here's what longevity expert Dr.Maoshing Ni has to say about bitter gourd -

A melon for natural weight loss
A traditional remedy for losing weight and helping treat diabetes is bitter melon, also known as bitter gourd or balsam pear. Looking a bit like a zucchini with a bumpy surface, its cleansing and mildly laxative properties flush the system of toxins and promote weight loss. Bitter melon contains vitamins A, B1, B3, and C as well as several phytonutrients—including antioxidants like lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin. It is a good source of dietary fiber, plus it has two times the beta-carotene of broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach, and double the potassium of bananas!
Surprisingly, only Indians and some other Asians are familiar with this melon / gourd. Indians do have a fascination for all kinds of gourds it looks like :)

For those of you who need an intro with this super vegetable - read about Bitter melon / gourd on Wiki
A more authentic source of info on the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center about it's anti cancer properties.

This is one recipe guaranteed to make you scratch karela from your hate list :) After all who doesn't like kachories, so any vegetable prepared this way will remind you of the beloved snack.

Bitter gourd made better

Kachori-masalewala Karela
Serves 3-4

3 medium sized bittergourds (bitter melon / karela / pavakkai)
1/4 cup moong dal soaked in hot water
1 - 2 tsp rice bran or any light cooking oil
Whole spices for tempering
1/2 tsp each of
Mustard seeds (rai)
Cumin seeds (jeera)
Fennel seeds (saunf)
Carom seeds (ajwain)
1/4 tsp of fenugreek seeds

Spice powders
Pinch of pure asafoetida
1 tsp of coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp or more of red chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 heaping teaspoon of dried mango powder (amchur) or 1 tsp of tamarind paste or 1 tbsp of lemon juice

1 tsp of sesame seeds (optional)
1 tbsp of crushed jaggery
Salt to taste
Fresh coriander to garnish
Freshly scraped coconut for garnish (optional)
  1. Scrub and wash bitter gourds well. Top and tail them. Cut them open vertically. Scoop out all seeds and membranes inside. Slice them under a cm thin. If necessary, cut once more vertically to give smaller sized slices. I like to pressure cook them in a vessel without extra water for 7 minutes under pressure for fast, nutrient-loss free cooking. You can either microwave or boil the pieces in salted water. Once the cooker has cooled, remove and keep aside.
  2. In a non stick kadhai, heat oil and add asafoetida first. Immediately, throw in all the whole spices for tempering. Stir just until they start spluttering and changing colour, don't brown / burn any spices. Add the sesame seeds last if using, stir for a minute, until it starts spluttering.
  3. Add the moong dal soaked for about 15 minutes in hot water as it is, or coarsely ground. Stir along with the spices on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add 3/4 cup water to this along with all remaining spice powders/ pastes. Stir around for a minute. Cover and less the dal cook for around 5 minutes. We don't want it to turn mushy, just soft.
  4. Next add the cooked slices of bitter gourd, salt and jaggery. Stir well to coat with spices. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Adjust salt and red chilli powder after tasting.
  5. Garnish with fresh coriander. Serve hot with dal & rice or with chapatis / parathas and a bowl of yogurt or kadi (that's what I had for lunch).

You could substitute the moong dal with 1/2 cup of dry roasted gram flour (besan / kadalaimaavu) to make it faster. In that case, just add it when you add the karela slices.
Same method works superbly with snake gourd (pudalankai)- will convert all gourd haters in one bite!
Another method to prepare this is to fill the cavity of one inch sized pieces of either gourd and shallow fry in oil. I don't have the luxury of the time nor the excess oil that the above method uses, so I stick to the low-oil sliced up one.

How to make bitter gourd less bitter

There are a variety of methods here. While I use none of this, as I believe draining the gourd of its bitter jucies reduces its healthful properties, you could use this, especially if you are a first timer with karela.
  1. Slice the gourd as described above the previous night and soak overnight in buttermilk or thinned yogurt with a pinch of salt. Cook next morning after draining well. Take care while you add the salt while cooking as the vegetable would have retained some amount of salt in the soaking process.
  2. Salt the slices with a tsp of salt and leave in a colander for half to one hour. Wash lightly before cooking to remove excess salt.
  3. There's another theory that says soaking in the water in which rice has been washed (starchy water) for a few hours will also remove the bitterness. I haven't tried this one though.

Quick Dinner Recipe: Couscous with roasted vegetables

Today was a nearly perfect day - with things going as planned, rains generously hitting the city, water crisis in the house somewhat better, chores getting done before schedule and one dirty window sill cleared of pigeon droppings, and me managing to catch 2 episodes of Jeeves and Wooster in the afternoon while baby was sleeping. And hey, the little boy entertained himself with a kitchen towel, a tomato and a cooker-vessel. Was that a sign??

If so many nice things in one day could not propel me to start posting on my food blog, then probably nothing could. Besides, what I cooked this evening for supper turned out so colourful and camera friendly, especially to a person behind the camera who off late has been clicking just her baby.

It's a simple couscous and veggies, one plate dish - high on the health quotient and surprisingly high on taste factor too. In short, it is a speedy route to a healthy dinner. You can choose any variety of squash on hand as an addition along with any number of fresh herbs as a garnish. I used what I had on hand and the result has turned out superb. Next time I will also consider throwing in some eggplant wedges to roast along with the other veggies. I have added Nutrela granules to up the protein content, but it is optional.

Another view of dinner tonight

Couscous with roasted vegetables
Makes one generous plate
Time taken - Under 30 minutes, but under 5-7 minutes of active time

Shopping guide
Couscous available online

1/2 cup couscous
2 tbsp Nutrela granules
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 - 2 cups boiling hot water

1 tbsp olive oil
4-5 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 medium carrot - peeled, cut into diagonal slices
1/2 medium beet - peeled, cut into diagonal slices
1 medium green bell pepper - cut into strips
1 small onion - peeled, cut into thick slices
1/4 cup shredded cabbage
Handful of frozen peas
2-3 green chillies, whole
1 tsp dried oregano (I used one sachet of oregano seasoning that comes in with pizza delivery)
Fresh basil leaves and freshly ground black pepper to garnish

Couscous with roasted vegetables

Place the couscous, Nutrela granules and salt in a large bowl and pour a cup and a half of boiling water on the top. Mix with a fork, cover and let it sit for 5 minutes. If it gets too dry, add some more water, cover and wait a few more minutes, before fluffing up with a fork. Keep aside.

In a large skillet, heat a tbsp or more of olive oil. Throw in smashed garlic cloves, let them turn light brown on a medium flame. Next add all veggies except frozen peas (if using fresh shelled peas, then add that in along with the rest). Turn them around on a medium-high flame for 2-3 minutes. The veggies must not overcrowd the skillet - let them be spread out in a layer as they get roasted on a low to medium flame for 7-10 minutes.

Season with salt, pepper and oregano. You can add some chilli flakes for extra spice.

Spread the couscous on a large plate and transfer the roasted veggies over it. Flavour with some extra virgin olive oil on top, fresh basil leaves and more freshly cracked pepper.

Dig in.
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