These funny looking green vegetables are one of the healthiest things you can eat. Their name gives a hint about the primary taste: bitterness! Oh so bitter that the first time I ate them, I swore to never touch them again. But soon I found out that cooked in the right way, they are actually quite enjoyable. Now I even look forward to that time of the week when the Indian store around the corner gets a fresh batch of bitter melons, also called Karela.
Bitter melons are packed with beneficial nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins such as B1, B2, and B3, C, magnesium, folate, zinc, phosphorus and manganese. To draw a better picture, imagine that by consuming bitter melons you can profit from twice the beta-carotene of broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach, and twice the potassium of a banana. And those are already very health benefiting veggies and fruits on their own.
These bitter friends have the power to improve your immunity, aid your digestive health, vision and in weight loss. Give this beautiful article a read if you want to find out more about health benefits of bitter melons.
Cooking with bitter melons calls for the unripe form of them. They should be deep green in color and very firm, not soft. A few times when I didn’t pay much attention on the firmness, I got bitter melons that were starting to ripen inside. This is mostly the case when the bitter melon is a little soft on the outside and gives in when squeezing it. Ripened bitter melons’ seeds will turn red like this:
You can actually eat the red flesh. But this is not what you want to cook your stir-fry with.
For this recipe, chose bitter melons that are medium in size, not too small, not too big. Start by cutting the green bumps off so that only a very thin layer of transparent green remains. The more green you leave on, the more bitter it will taste.
Cut the bitter melon into very thin slices, pretty much as thin as possible. The ones on the picture below are actually still too thick, go for an even thinner version. The thinner they are, the more easily they will be cooked, resulting in softer and less bitter taste. Next, remove the seeds. This needs a little bit of patience 😉
Now add 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder and a little bit of salt. Give it a good mix and let it sit for half an hour. Then squeeze the whole mixture by hand for about 5-10 minutes or until they become juicy. Squeeze all the juice out, as much as you can.
Collect the juice in a glass and add the same amount of water to it. This juice is going to taste exceptionally bitter but it’s a great way to prepare your taste buds for the taste of the bitter melons. Set it aside for later.
Next, slice the onions into fine stripes. I would call it medium sized onions, but to be clear about the size I added a picture of the onion size I use in this recipe. Heat a good amount of coconut oil in a pan and add the onions and curry leaves. Fry until the onions turn golden brown, not just translucent.
Add the bitter melons and mix well. Cover and fry for 5 minutes on low heat. Then add another tbsp. of coconut oil, 1 tbsp. of coriander powder and 1/4 tsp. chili powder or to taste. Mix well and fry for 10 more minutes on low heat.
Stir frequently in between to make sure it doesn’t burn but do let it take some color. I generally cook until the mixture is slightly burned to make the onions and curry leaves crispy. The bitter melon itself won’t easily burn as you can see on the picture below.
To cook the rice, bring a liter of water to a boil and add your rice when the water starts to form bubbles. Add 1 tsp. of cumin seeds and stir. Cook the rice on high heat for exactly 10 minutes. Then strain and serve.
I do advise you to drink the bitter melon juice right before eating this dish. The juice is enough for 2 people. It may sound ridiculous but after drinking this bitter juice you wont notice the bitterness of the bitter melon stir-fry at all anymore.
To me it tastes best when mixed with a lot of rice, even more than you see on the picture, because it takes away the bitterness. But it is also common in India to eat the bitter melons directly with roti and some dal on the side.
- 4 bitter melons (small-medium)
- 2 medium-big onions, sliced
- 2 finely chopped garlic cloves
- 10 curry leaves
- 1 inch finely chopped ginger
- 1 tsp. turmeric powder
- 1/4 tsp. chili powder
- 1 tbsp. coriander powder
- 1.5 cups white basmati rice
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- salt to taste
- Peel off most of the green part of the bitter melon. Only a very thin light green layer should remain.
- Cut into very thin slices and remove seeds by hand.
- Add a little bit of salt and 1/2 tsp. of turmeric. Mix well and set it aside for a while.
- In the meantime, heat coconut oil in pan and add the curry leaves and onion slices. Fry for about 5 minutes or until the color of the onions changes to a light golden brown.
- While the onions fry, squeeze the bitter melon until very soft and juice comes out.
- Collect as much juice as possible and save for later.
- Now add 1/2 tsp. of turmeric powder to the onions and fry for around 30 seconds.
- Add finely chopped ginger and garlic to the onions. Fry for 2 minutes.
- Add the bitter melon, cover and fry for 5 minute son low heat.
- Add another tbsp. of coconut oil, coriander powder and chili powder, stir and continue frying on low heat for 10 minutes while covered. Stir frequently in between.It tastes best when the curry leaves and onions are kinda burnt.
- To cook the rice, bring a liter of water to a boil and add your rice when the water starts to form bubbles. Add 1 tsp. of cumin seeds and stir. Cook the rice on high heat for exactly 10 minutes. Then strain and serve.
- The bitter melon alone will taste too bitter. Mix it thoroughly with a lot of rice. Before eating it, take the bitter melon liquid you set aside, mix it with the same amount of water and drink (enough for 2). This will prepare you best for enjoying the full flavor of the stir-fry.