Stuffed Bitter Melons (Karela)

Impossibly delicious to some of us, the mighty karela, also known as bitter gourd or bitter melon, is definitely an acquired taste. But here’s a surefire way to fall in love with this spiky, rather strange-looking vegetable known to be one of the healthiest you can eat.

In most Indian kitchens, cooks, in an effort to get their families to eat this vegetable prized for its blood-sugar-fighting, cholesterol-lowering properties,  add to it tons of sweeteners like jaggery or stuff it with all kinds of goodies and then deep-fry it. The idea is to mask its magnificent bitterness which some people, and especially kids, abhor. But all that work pretty much ends up working at odds with the natural healthfulness of the karela.

My recipe finds a way out of that dilemma by using a stuffing that’s as healthy as it is delicious: tomatoes, onions, and peanuts, along with the fire of some simple spices and the rich sweetness of a smidgen of jaggery. I then pan-fry the karelas in a tiny bit of oil (you could even use a spray), like I would my eggplant in Bharli Vangi. This makes the karela tender and perfectly wonderful.

One word of advise: lots of people are tempted to peel the karela to reduce its bitterness, but I strongly advise against that because why waste a good thing? And if you find that you cannot have enough of the karela after trying this recipe, here are some other great and healthy ways too cook it.

Gotta run, but here’s the recipe. Enjoy, all!

Karela Stuffed With Tomatoes, Onions and Peanuts

Ingredients:

6 karelas (also called bitter gourds or bitter melons, and usually available in Indian and Asian grocery stores in the United States)

2 medium-large tomatoes, diced

1 large onion, minced

1 tbsp grated ginger

1 tsp garlic paste

1/2 tsp red chilli powder

1/4 tsp turmeric

1/3 cup peanuts, coarsely ground

1 tbsp grated jaggery (use sugar if you don’t have this)

1 tbsp coriander powder

Salt to taste

1 tbsp + 1 tsp vegetable oil like canola

1/4 cup chopped coriander leaves

Heat 1 tsp of oil in a skillet. Add the onions and fry until brown spots appear. Add the tomatoes, chilli, turmeric and coriander powders. Fry until the oil starts to separate.

Add the peanuts and jaggery and stir-fry until the jaggery’s melted.

Add salt to taste, coriander leaves, then turn off the heat and set aside.

Prepare the karelas by lopping off the ends and making a vertical slit all the way down one side, taking care not to cut through. With your fingers or a melon baller, remove all of the thick, white seeds that run through the length of the vegetable. Discard the seeds.

Spray the karelas with some oil and place in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 minutes or until they become a little tender but not cooked through.

When they are cool enough to handle, stuff each karela with the tomato-onion-peanut filling. (My mom, when she stuffed karelas, would tie a string around them to keep the filling from coming out, but I skip this step.)

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a cast-iron or non-stick skillet. Place the karelas, without overlapping, in the skillet and cook over medium-high heat, turning after each side becomes lightly golden-brown and is tender. To ensure the karela is well-cooked, pierce it with a knife. If the knife goes in without any resistance, it’s pretty much ready to eat.

Enjoy hot with some plain old dal and rice. 

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