Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Stuffed Bitter Gourd (kahaani mein twist)

Bitter Gourd (Pavakkai in Tamil, Karela in Hindi) is a vegetable that very few people like. But those who do, seem to like it with a passion. And in some psycho babble analysis that I have done, I have reached the conclusion that most peoplewho do like this bitter vegetable were those who were, as kids, encouraged to eat everything that was served.

Like this friend of mine who grew up in a joint family; there used to be at least 4-5 vegetables prepared for every meal, to meet everyone’s preference! Till date, he doesn’t eat eggplant, mushrooms, sticky potato and a couple of more vegetables.

I can just hear my mother laughing out loud if someone had suggested that to her! She had it hard enough trying to rustle up 3 meals a day while bringing up two kids and managing a full time teaching job and home, without having to think of different dishes for the 4 of us!

I used to hate adai – a rice and lentil pancake - as a child (without even trying it), and while I was never forced to eat it, the alternative which was offered every single time adai was made was aval (beaten rice) soaked in milk and sugar. It was edible, but not terribly interesting. Soon I decided to try adai and I came to love those crisp pancakes with a blob of home made butter on them. Maybe Jessica Seinfeld could try that instead of sneaking beet into chocolate cakes and spinach into brownies!

Of course there are exceptions to any theory, especially to theories based on a population of what? 20 people?! There are friends who eat every other vegetable quite happily, except for bitter gourd because they just don’t like the bitterness. I think it is more of an acquired taste (like beer ;)) , and where others find this vegetable bitter , tender gourds when cooked the right way, seem to me to have a really nice flavor, quite different from other vegetables.

Anyway, my mother loved bitter gourd in all its forms and her enthusiasm for it infected us too – we used to wait for the tamarind based curry (pavakkai kozhambu), the stir fry (varuval) and Pavakkai Pitlai (bitter gourd in spicy lentil gravy). Ok before you start thinking we had a freaky childhood straight out of The Adams Family, let me clarify that this was only when we were about 10 and 17 respectively, and able to actually try new things and develop a taste for them.

Stuffed bitter gourd was not made very often since it was a bit more labour intensive. Once I started cooking though, I prepared this quite regularly, since I liked trying out different stuffings. There was one with potato, another one with roasted coconut and spices ground into a paste……the easiest one was with onions, besan (chickpea flour) and spices – fried in a little bit of oil and then stuffed into the gourds.

Whatever be the preparation, I usually peel the skin of the bitter gourd and then cook it, since that removes a lot of the bitterness. My girl Friday T who helps with my daughter, told me that they never peeled the skin in her village in Jharkand and she used to then make a vegetable stir fry out of just the peel which I would have discarded; brave soul, not to mention wise, since most of the nutrition would be in the skin I guess.

So when I decided to make the stuffed version this time, she suggested that we use the peel in the stuffing. Now that seemed really interesting if a bit daunting! Ok, make that frightening....but I'm a foodie after all, drawn irresistibly to a twist in tried and tested recipes - true indications that any notions of sanity need to be left at the door. So I did.
The filling really tasted great with this new addition and it wasn't "it's HimeshReshammiya-plug-your-ears-you're-going-to-be-tortured-kind-of-bitter" like I thought it might be.
Ok, this is the point when people usually start shifting in their chair and looking around for excuses to leave - my evangelical sessions on recipes....so I won't say more - try it out for yourselves you non believers! :)

Stuffed Bitter Gourd


Bitter Gourd – 6 small washed and peeled(the gourds should be dark green, not very big and with no signs of ripeness like yellow or white patches). Reserve about 4 tbsp of the peel.
Oil – 2 tbsp
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Salt – to taste

Onions – 2 medium, chopped fine
Besan (Chickpea flour) - 3 tbsp
Reserved peel of bitter gourd marinated in a tsp of salt for 15 minutes – 4 tbsp
Chilli powder – 1 tsp
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Lemon juice – 1 tbsp
Oil – 1 tsp

1. Slit the bitter gourds slightly, just enough to scoop out the insides (seed and pith), if the seeds are very big then the gourd is too ripe and will be bitter.
2. Take a vessel of water and boil the slit gourds in it, adding ¼ tsp of salt and ½ tsp of turmeric. Boil the gourds till half cooked, do not overcook them since they will cook again with the stuffing. Keep aside to cool.
3. Wash the marinated peel in water and keep aside.
4. Meanwhile, heat a non stick pan and roast the besan and roast on a low flame till the colour changes and you get a nice aroma. Remove the besan from the pan and keep aside.
5. Add one tsp of oil to the same pan, heat it and then add the onions. Sauté till translucent, add the washed peel, chilli powder, cumin powder and salt and fry for about 3-4 minutes.
6. Add the roasted besan and fry for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from flame and add the lemon juice. Let cool a bit and divide into 6 portions.
7. Take the cooled bitter gourd and stuff it with the onion mixture, taking care not to open the slits too wide. In case the slits have opened too wide while cooking in water or stuffing, use some clean string to tie them up. The string to be cut and discarded before serving.
8. Return the pan to the flame, heat 2 tbsp oil in it and add the stuffed gourds to it. Fry on a low flame for about 10-15 minutes, stirring carefully from time to time. Make sure all sides are evenly browned and the gourds are cooked through.

Alternatively, the stuffed gourds can be brushed with oil and cooked in an oven at 180 C for 15 minutes, rotating them in between so that they are evenly browned on all sides.



I am not a bitter gourd lover too...:(
Glad that you visited my blog and left ur precious comments:))

KALVA said...

wow my mom does the same way... I still saved sone in the freezer! delish!!

sagari said...

nice recipe

evolvingtastes said...

Looks great. I often make something similar that is stuffed with paneer, and I never peel karelas. Hope to give this one a try, and will let you know.

Seema said...

I love bitter gourd in any way!Yes, i am one of those kids who was raised with having to finish of everything on ones plate that was served.. no exceptions!! Never tried stuffing, but have tasted it at friends place, know its yum!! Must do this sometime..

bee said...

i used to beg for bittergourds as a kid. i loved them so much, and still do. thanks for this recipe.

Miri said...

Hope you do try it Evolving tastes, it's very different from the usual ones I make.

Thanks Sagari!

Seema, I think it works in the long run....I love all kinds of veggies now! tell me how it turns out.

Bee, you're welcome!

Jayashree said...

Interesting recipe....I am a bittergourd fan too. In fact, I just finished posting a recipe for pitlai on my blog.