Bitter Melon (aka Karela) Sure Is

When I go to parties, or talk to someone about my blog (where I cook quirky fruits or meats, in case you’re new) one of the questions they often ask is, “is there anything that was totally disgusting that you couldn’t eat?”  Until now, I’ve said, “Not really.”  However, Indian Bitter Melon, or Karela, although attractive…

 

…forced my tongue to spit it out immediately.

 When I read about how to prepare it, I began to have a mental image of hundreds of thousands of Indian mothers sitting across tables from their kids in a standoff over these pretty little warty veggies that look like acne ridden pickles (not to be confused with the Chinese version which is more like a faded dehydrated English cucumber).  Many recipes included warnings about the extremely bitter taste, saying that it’s something you need to get used to, but that it’s worth it for the health benefits, which seem to be awe inspiring.  I’ll type out how this website describes them, just in case you’re too lazy to open a new window, because I want to help all of those mothers present their arguments:

“This odd-looking fruit is rich in iron, vitamins, phosphorous and fiber. It has more beta carotene than broccoli, more calcium than spinach and more potassium than banana. Not only that, it can fight off tumor and malaria, and treat dyspepsia and constipation. Although requiring more studies and scientific proof, bitter melon may be used to inhibit cancer and HIV infection.

In some parts of the world, bitter melon is used to treat chickenpox, measles, herpes simplex, dysentery, fever, painful menstruation, burns, scabies and other skin problems.”

Is this the miracle food that can cure all disease?  It might be, but I still won’t eat it again, unless I can somehow cut my tongue out or eat it intravenously.   Maybe I could choke it down if I had herpes or scabies, but luckily I’m in pretty good shape right now. 

Here’s how I prepared it, which was based on a recipe I found where a mother said her young daughter was willing to eat it deep fried.  I might write back to that mother suggesting she take her daughter for a psychological evaluation.

Fried Indian Bitter Melon

(serves 3, if they’ll eat it.  To save money, reduce by 10x and you’ll still make enough for everyone)

  • 4-5 Indian karela, sliced into rounds
  • 6Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3Tbsp curry powder

Directions:  Soak sliced karela in heavily salted water for at least one hour to help remove bitterness (I did this, but it sure didn’t work.  What would it have tated like if I hadn’t??).  Rinse.  Heat oil over med-high heat for a few minutes.  Add karela and cook approx 8 minutes, until it begins to look crispy, stirring it a few times.  Add curry powder.

Results

I think you’ve guessed already.  It burned my tongue with bitterness that lingered even after I’d spit it out, almost like how a hot pepper burns for a long time afterward.  I take comfort in the fact that probably even that brief exposure to the karela passed some nutrition through to my bloodstream.  My friend said it tasted like rust.  My husband didn’t eat more than one piece, but he didn’t spit it out, which shocked me.  He must have a higher tolerance for suffering than I thought (no comments from the peanut gallery please).

Rating:  4 gags, which I see as a challenge now.  If I ever see it on an Indian restaurant menu I’ll order it for sure to see whether I like it when it’s prepared properly, but I’m quite confident I’ll still be adding it to my no-eat list, along with hard boiled eggs and yellow mustard, both of which could be desserts by comparison.

Comments

  1. Leave a Reply

    Chitrakut
    May 24, 2012

    Karela is the best thing on planet earth. Its yummy.

    Indians always have always had bitter foods. In fact, from ayurveda, a little bit of bitter foods is necessary in our diet. Other bitter foods are curry leaves, cilantro, brocolli, fenugreek etc. A person that does not enjoy a little bit of bitter food does not have a balanced diet.

    The trick to eating Karela is to reduce its bitterness by browning it when frying. When the kerala turns brown, its bitterness is reduced to tolerable enjoyable levels.

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      May 24, 2012

      Thanks for your advice! I promise to try cooking it again by browning it this time. I love all of the other bitter foods you mentioned, so maybe if I cook it properly karela will become one of the veggies I cook regularly. Stay tuned to see how it goes!

    • Leave a Reply

      Marz
      April 3, 2013

      Hmm now I’m tempted to try it too. I like curry leaves, and have both frozen and dried fenugreek leaves in the house right now, I love them in curry type dishes, and I pretty much can’t get enough cilantro. Not a huge fan of broccoli but mostly due to the texture.

  2. Leave a Reply

    Chitrakut
    May 24, 2012

    When you fry it, try not to stir it too often. That way the Karela will brown easily. People also add powdered fennel seeds, coconut, cashews, tamarind, natural sugar and raisins into the fried Karela to mask the extreme bitterness, but that is a separate dish and a different recipe. But It works. And the browned karela does have a different fulfilling taste. The more brown it becomes, the better the taste. Just make sure it does not get burnt.

    Karela is packed with anti oxidants and is cooling. It kills inflammation. It good for the eyes, throat. Reduces blood sugar levels. Purifies blood. It truly is amazing.

    I would try it with a little extra oil the first time.

    Neem is another spice known to be more bitter than karela. Stir frying eggplants with neem after they were soaked in turmeric and salt is a well known recipe in India. But the neem used is in lesser quantity.

    • Leave a Reply

      Marz
      April 3, 2013

      Not sure if you are still reading but what is neem, does it also go by another name? I have been reading lots of Indian cookbooks and have gathered lots of spices (even things like amchur and asafetida) but have not seen neem.

  3. Leave a Reply

    Chitrakut
    May 24, 2012

    Another thing I noticed was you did not remove the seeds. The seeds need to be removed before frying.

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      May 25, 2012

      Great! I thought about removing the seeds but a few of the recipes I read said to embrace the seeds. I think you’re right that a lightweight like me should get rid of them for sure. And I like the sounds of the raisins and coconut. Maybe I’ll hunt down a more elaborate recipe! Thanks again!

      • Leave a Reply

        Ann Allchin
        June 20, 2012

        Guess what Chitkarut? I finally cooked it again with your guidance and this time I snacked on it before it made it to the table! I removed the seeds and sliced it much thinner than I did the first time. I soaked it in water that was heavily salted for about a half hour (you didn’t mention this, but I remembered it from other cooks’ recipes). I used lots of olive oil and fried it for a long time on medium at first, and then on med-low, only stirring it a few times. I waited until it was very brown and crispy, and it turned out great! I might even make it again now that I know how how nutritious it is! Thanks for your advice!

        • Leave a Reply

          Mostafa
          August 21, 2012

          I love karelas but for the life of me i can never get them right.. first the bitetr taste is always there, secondly, even if i soak them in imli ( just the way mom used to do) and salt.. then squeeze out the water after some time any suggestions???? this sounds so yummy that i am sure it will taste even better.. thank u for sharing

          • Ann Allchin
            September 1, 2012

            I wasn’t the most successful in the beginning either, but have a look at the comments. One friendly follower let me know that I needed to cook them until brown, and that really improved things!

  4. Leave a Reply

    Lisa
    September 11, 2012

    Hi, I’ve had bittermelon and it’s great the way my momma makes it. In addition to browning it (add some more spices too), you should add cut up potato when cooking the bittermelon and serve over a bed of basmati rice 😉

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      September 11, 2012

      Yum! Sounds delicious! (Now that I know that bittermelon can be good!)

  5. Leave a Reply

    trang
    September 23, 2012

    Bitter melon is a great vegetables. You must take out the inside and seads away, then soak it with salk for 10 minutes. After that you can cook the way you want the bitteness will go away.

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      September 23, 2012

      The second time I cooked it was much better! Thanks!!

  6. Leave a Reply

    Robert
    February 25, 2014

    My sister in law prepared it green sliced thin with lemon juice and salt. It was good and less bitter.

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      February 25, 2014

      Thanks! It was pretty nice fried too, but it’s definitely not good carpaccio style! Thanks for sharing, and for popping in!

  7. Leave a Reply

    Manjit Chauhan
    June 11, 2014

    in picture it looks it’s not cooked. to get rid of bitter taste deep fry it. make it crisp then try. add sauted onions and curry powder, salt if not in curry powder. also you can get in capsul form. it is very good for diabetes.
    Good Luck next time

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      June 11, 2014

      Thanks very much! I did give it a go again cooking it longer, and I even found myself snacking on it! Thanks for popping in and sharing your advice. Hope to see you here again!

  8. Leave a Reply

    Chumkie
    June 25, 2014

    I always add a sweet potato to anything with bitter melon to balance out its bitterness.

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      June 25, 2014

      Thanks for your advice, and especially for stopping by! Just checked out your blog – I added it to my Bloglovin feed so that I won’t miss any of your posts. Saw that you just made a recipe with lentils – I made some just last night but they were far too normal, so I’m glad to have a new recipe for them!

  9. Leave a Reply

    Helena Cardulis
    July 6, 2016

    I am going to buy it,and add kiwi to see if it removes the bitter flavor, and blend it in my nutri bullet. I like that it’s an anti- oxidant,gets rid of inflammation, good for the eyes,throat,and lowers blood sugar levels…Thanks for the information.

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      July 21, 2016

      Thanks so much for dropping in! Please let me know how it goes. And so sorry for the late reply — something went awry with my notifications. (P.S. You’ll be able to name your smoothie “bitter bliss.”

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>