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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stuffed Karela (Bitter Melon)

Karela or Momordica charantia, called bitter melon or bitter gourd in English, is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit, which is among the most bitter of all fruits. There are many varieties that differ substantially in the shape and bitterness of the fruit.

Bitter melon is generally consumed cooked in the green or early yellowing stage. The young shoots and leaves of the bitter melon may also be eaten as greens.

Bitter melon is often used in Chinese cooking for its bitter flavor, typically in stir-fries (often with pork and douchi), soups, and also as tea.

It is very popular throughout South Asia. In North India, it is often prepared with potatoes and served with yogurt on the side to offset the bitterness, or used in sabji.

In Punjabi cuisine is stuffed with spices and then fried in oil. In Southern India it is used in the dishes thoran/thuvaran (mixed with grated coconut), theeyal (cooked with roasted coconut) and pachadi (which is considered a medicinal food for diabetics). Other popular recipes include preparations with curry, deep fried with peanuts or other ground nuts, and pachi pulusu, a soup with fried onions and other spices.

In Pakistan and Bangladesh, bitter melon is often cooked with onions, red chili powder, turmeric powder, salt, coriander powder, and a pinch of cumin seeds. Another dish in Pakistan calls for whole, unpeeled bitter melon to be boiled and then stuffed with cooked ground beef, served with either hot tandoori bread, naan, chappati, or with khichri (a mixture of lentils and rice).

Bitter melon is a significant ingredient in Okinawan cuisine, and is increasingly used in mainland Japan. It is popularly credited with Okinawan life expectancies being higher than the already long Japanese ones.

In Indonesia, bitter melon is prepared in various dishes, such as gado-gado, and also stir fried, cooked in coconut milk, or steamed.

In Vietnam, raw bitter melon slices consumed with dried meat floss and bitter melon soup with shrimp are popular dishes. Bitter melons stuffed with ground pork are served as a popular summer soup in the South. It is also used as the main ingredient of "stewed bitter melon". This dish is usually cooked for the Tết holiday, where its "bitter" name is taken as a reminder of the poor living conditions experienced in the past.

In the Philippines, bitter melon may be stir-fried with ground beef and oyster sauce, or with eggs and diced tomato. The dish pinakbet, popular in the Ilocos region of Luzon, consists mainly of bitter melons, eggplant, okra, string beans, tomatoes, lima beans, and other various regional vegetables altogether stewed with a little bagoong-based stock.

In Nepal, bitter melon is prepared as a fresh pickle called achar. For this the bitter gourd is cut into cubes or slices and sautéed covered in oil and a sprinkle of water. When it is softened and reduced, it is minced in a mortar with a few cloves of garlic, salt and a red or green pepper. It is also sauteed to golden-brown, stuffed, or as a curry on its own or with potatoes.

In Trinidad and Tobago, bitter melons are usually sauteed with onion, garlic and scotch bonnet pepper until almost crisp.

Here is one of the way I serve Bitter melon: Stuffed with spiced onions and potatoes.
Just a word of caution, it takes a while to acquire the taste of bitter melon, however it is not for everyone's palate.

You either love it or hate it, but if you learn its medicinal value and goodness, you will quickly learn to love it. Please refer to end of this recipe for detailed goodness of Karela. (courtesy of

This dish can be served with chapati, Naan or plain white Basmati rice with side of Plain Yogurt or cucumber Raita (recipe on this blog).


* 5-6 Karela (Bitter melon)

* 4 teaspoon salt

For stuffing:

* 4 Potatoes boiled, peeled and mashed

* 1 yellow onion

* 1 small red onion

* 1" piece of ginger peeled

* 10-12 cloves of garlic

* 2-3 green chilies

* 1/3 cup of tomato puree

* 1/4 cup of oil + 2 tblspoon of butter

* 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds

* 1/4 teaspoon asafetida

* 2-4 pods of dry red chili

* Salt to taste

* 2 teaspoon turmeric powder

* 1 teaspoon cayenne powder

* 1 teaspoon paprika

* 2 tablespoon coriander powder

* 1 teaspoon cumin powder

* 2 teaspoon mango powder

* 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

* 1 teaspoon garam masala

* Fresh Juice from 1 big or 2 small limes

To stir fry stuffed Karela you will need following:

* 1/4 cup of oil

* 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds

* 1/4 teaspoon asafetida.

* 1/4 cup water

* Salt to taste (if needed)


* Boil potatoes while you are preparing the Karela (bitter melon) for stuffing)

* Wash and peel the bitter melon, save the peels.

* Cut a slit lengthwise in each melon and scoop out all the seeds. Discard the seeds.

* Now marinate the melon and the peels in salt in separate containers. Salt helps decrease the bitterness and also helps soften the melon so they are cooked in less time.

* Set aside for 30 min.

* In the mean time, peel and mash boiled potatoes.

* Grind onions, garlic, ginger, and chili pepper in food processor, take it out in a container and set aside.

* Squeeze all the water out of melon peels and grind the peels in food processor as well.

* Squeeze all the water out of whole bitter melon and boil them until tender, while these are boiling you can prepare the stuffing as follows.

* Heat oil and butter in a pan, add cumin seeds and red dryied chili pepper pods, when these crackle add asafetida.

* Add ground onion, garlic, ginger and chili paste.

* Saute until light brown.

* Add ground bitter melon peels, saute for 2 more min.

* Add all the dry spices and saute for additional one min.

* Add tomato puree and cook for 1 min.

* Add mashed potatoes and salt to taste.

* Add lime juice and set aside.

* Drain all the water out of boiled bitter melon. (sprinkle with some salt if needed)

* Stuff them generously with above filling.

* Heat oil in a shallow vessel, add cumin seeds and when these crackle add asafetida.

* Add stuffed Karela (bitter melon) one by one in this heated tempered oil.

* Stir fry one side until light brown, gently turn them over and brown the other side.

* Transfer all the stir fried Karela in microwave safe dish.

* Sprinkle 1/4 cup of water on the stuffed Karela.

* Cook them in Microwave covered with plastic wrap for about 5-6 until desired tenderness is achieved.

Serve hot with Chapati, Naan or Plain white Basmati rice and side of plain yogurt or Cucumber Raita (All Recipes on this blog).

Medicinal uses of Bitter Melon:

Bitter melon has been used in various Asian and African traditional medicine systems for a long time.

Active substances: The plant contains several biologically active compounds, chiefly momordicin I and II, and cucurbitacin B. The plants contains also several bioactive glycosides (including momordin, charantin, charantosides, goyaglycosides, momordicosides) and other terpenoid compounds (including momordicin-28, momordicinin, momordicilin, momordenol, and momordol).It also contains cytotoxic (ribosome-inactivating) proteins such as momorcharin and momordin.

Digestive aid: Like most bitter-tasting foods, bitter melon is claimed to stimulate digestion, and thus help treat dyspepsia and constipation. However it is suspected of causing heartburn and ulcers, although these negative effects appear to be limited by its action as demulcent and mild inflammation modulator.

Bitter melon is used as a folk medicine in Togo to treat gastrointestinal diseases, and extracts have shown activity in vitro against the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans.

It has been claimed that bitter melon's bitterness comes from quinine. Bitter melon is traditionally regarded in Asia as useful for preventing and treating malaria. Tea from its leaves is used for this purpose also in Panama and Colombia. In Guyana, bitter melons are boiled and stir-fried with garlic and oignons. This popular side dish known as corilla is served to prevent malaria. Laboratory studies have confirmed that species related to bitter melon have anti-malarial activity, though human studies have not yet been published.

In Togo the plant is traditionally used against viral diseases such as chickenpox and measles. Tests with leaf extracts have shown in vitro activity against the herpes simplex type 1 virus, apparently due to unidentified compounds other than the momordicins.

Laboratory tests suggest that compounds in bitter melon might be effective for treating HIV infection. As most compounds isolated from bitter melon that impact HIV have either been proteins or lectins, neither of which are well-absorbed, it is unlikely that oral intake of bitter melon will slow HIV in infected people. It is possible oral ingestion of bitter melon could offset negative effects of anti-HIV drugs, if a test tube study can be shown to be applicable to people.

One clinical trial found very limited evidence that bitter melon might improve immune cell function, and thus be beneficial to cancer and HIV patients. However, these claims have yet to be confirmed.

Folk wisdom has it that bitter melon helps to prevent or counteract diabetes mellitus type 2. Tea from the leaves is used to this purpose in the folk medicine of Panama.
In 1962, Lolitkar and Rao extracted from the plant a substance, which they called charantin, which had hypoglycaemic effect on normal and diabetic rabbits. Another principle, active only on diabetic rabbits, was isolated by Visarata and Ungsurungsie in 1981. Bitter melon has been found to increase insulin sensitivity. In 2007, a study by the Philippine Department of Health determined that a daily dose of 100 mg per kilogram of body weight is comparable to 2.5 mg/kg of the anti-diabetes drug glibenclamide taken twice per day. Tablets of bitter melon extract are sold in the Philippines as a food supplement under the trade name Charantia and exported to many countries.

Other compounds in bitter melon have been found to activate the AMPK, the protein that regulates glucose uptake (a process which is impaired in diabetics).

Bitter melon also contains a lectin that has insulin-like activity due to its non-protein-specific linking together to insulin receptors. This lectin lowers blood glucose concentrations by acting on peripheral tissues and, similar to insulin's effects in the brain, suppressing appetite. This lectin is likely a major contributor to the hypoglycemic effect that develops after eating bitter melon.

Two compounds extracted from bitter melon, α-eleostearic acid (from seeds) and 15,16-dihydroxy-α-eleostearic acid (from the fruit) have been found to induce apoptosis of leukemia cells in vitro.[23] Diets containing 0.01% bitter melon oil (0.006% as α-eleostearic acid) were found to prevent azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis in rats.

Other uses:
Bitter melon has been used in traditional medicine for several other ailments, including dysentery, colic, fevers, burns, painful menstruation, scabies and other skin problems. It has also been used as abortifacient, for birth control, and to help childbirth.

The seeds of bitter melon contains vicine and therefore can trigger symptoms of favism in susceptible individuals. In addition, the red arils of the seeds are reported to be toxic to children, and the fruit is contraindicated during pregnancy.

Bitter Melon description and medicinal uses source:

Recipe and Photographs by Surekha.

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