Bitter is an important flavour in the Indian Ayurvedic tradition, and also in other Asian medical regimes. Bitter Gourd (also called Bitter Melon) is only one of a range of bitter ingredients in those parts of the world, but in the western world it may be one of the most bitter tastes one is likely to experience. Even in the areas where it is commonly eaten, it is not universally loved. People either love or hate it, and if you love it you are likely to become addicted to it.
Bitter melon is a native of India. There are two types, the so called Indian Bitter Melon (karela) which is dark green with large teeth like protrusions on its skin, and the Chinese bitter melon which is lighter green and fatter, with wart like bumps on its skin. The bitterness is around the same in both varieties. They appear in late Summer and can often be found through to early winter, in Asian and Indian markets.
Choosing Bitter Melons
Choose melons with bright skin and firm texture without bruises. Pick the small to medium sized ones – the larger ones are more bitter.
Preparing Bitter Melons
One way to prepare them is to slit them lengthwise and remove the seeds using a spoon to scrape them out, Then slice or prepare them according to the recipe. They can be steamed, simmered, stir fried, or stuffed whole.
If you are a bitter melon addict, leave the seeds in – they add to the bitterness and have a lovely crunch.
They are usually not peeled, but can be if you want to reduce the bitterness. Another trick to reduce bitterness is to salt them and leave in a colander to drain for 30 – 60 mins, then rinse and use in the normal way.
Meenakshi Ammal’s advice for Preparing Bitter Gourd for Pitlai, Koottu, Poriyal and mildly sour Kuzhambu
Meenakshi Ammal, author of the wonderful Cook and See series of books, has some advice about preparing bitter gourd for Kuzhambu and lentil dishes.
Cook the bitter gourd separately and only then add to the tamarind water. The amount of tamarind can be reduced substantially due to the flavour of bitter gourd. If you wish to reduce the sourness of the gourd, half cook in water, strain, then add to thick tamarind water that has been heated with salt and turmeric. Cook a little and add a little jaggery. Cook again until tamarind water is absorbed.
Bitter Melon Recipes
Our Bitter Melon Recipes are here – feel free to browse them. More recipes are planned, so check back regularly.