Karela is one of those Indian vegetables that tends to confound even the most experienced cooks. It’s no wonder why: this exotic vegetable is incredibly bitter.
Bitter melon, as it is known in the West, looks like a cucumber with a rugged texture. Its green skin conceals a white fleshy interior with little seeds. Once properly cooked, the bitterness gives way to a delicious vegetable that stands up to strong-flavoured foods like onions, spices and meats.
What is bitter melon?
Bitter melon is rich in antioxidants and nutrients, including potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. Bitter melon is also very low in calories.
Here's a fun fact: bitter melon is technically a fruit, not a vegetable. It’s scientific name is momordica charantia, but it also goes by the name bitter gourd and goya chanpuru in Japanese. Although it originated in Asia it is now widely cultivated in Africa and the Caribbean.
There are two main varieties of bitter melon: Chinese and Indian. Chinese bitter melon tends to be less bitter than the Indian one. The latter has a spikier texture, while the former is smoother to the touch.
How to Cook Bitter Melon
The first step in cooking karela is extracting its bitterness. Wash the bitter melon then slice it in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scrape off its white interior and seeds. Cut the bitter melon into rounds and salt liberally (the same way you would eggplant when prepping it for melanzane parmigiana).
After 15 minutes, rinse the bitter melon and it’s ready to be sautéed, stewed, stir fried or stuffed and roasted. Here are some tasty recipes to try:
BITTER MELON WITH ONIONS AND INDIAN SPICES
Fennel seeds, turmeric, red onions and a touch of sugar make this Indian side dish completely delectable. The ladies at Show Me The Curry teach you how it's done:
HOW TO COOK BITTER MELON THAI STYLE
This tasty dish from What Recipe TV combines bitter melon with red chilies, garlic, pork and eggs. It is best served with a side of rice. Take a look:
VIETNAMESE STUFFED BITTER MELON SOUP
Bitter melon soup is an interesting concept. The vegetable is stuffed with meat, glass noodles and mushrooms, and then stewed until tender. Try this technique from Helen's Recipes:
STIR FRY: BITTER MELON OKINAWAN STYLE
This exciting recipe from Ochikeron hails from Okinawa. It pairs bitter melon with thinly sliced pork, tofu and eggs. Here's how to make it: