Readers’ Recipes #1: Bitter Gourd/Karela

I always meant for this to be an interactive website – and I would love more of you to send in your (vaguely Middle Eastern, vegetarian) recipes. So I was delighted to receive this e-mail from a nice lady called Alia the other day. I replicate it in full below because a) she says nice things, and b) I am very lazy and it is all too easy to copy and paste.

The picture is patently not of a nice lady called Alia, but rather of our very nice greengrocer Mr. Imtiaz holding a pair of karelas by way of illustration.


I picked up both Veggistan and Snackistan in Singapore a few months ago. Great recipes and I like your style of writing and the fact that your recipes assume the reader knows how to cook. Not lowest common denominator cooking.

Anyway, in one of your books, you say how you hate bitter melon. Me, I loved it the first time I had it, which was in Lahore, Pakistan. And my favourite way of cooking it is the way my friend’s mother made it that time.

First off, there are 2 kinds of bitter melon: the Indo-Paki type (small with sharper wrinkles and pointy ends) and the Chinese kind (yellower green, larger, smoother, rounded ends.) I prefer the Chinese type.

Peel the outside brusquely with a veggie peeler, not because the skin isn’t edible, but because that will reduce some bitterness. Then cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and white pith. (The seeds when fully ripe are scarlet red, so don’t freak out if you get one of those, but it makes no nevermind as far as eating goes.) Then slice up these bitter melon canoes into half-arcs about 1/3″ thick. Throw them into a bowl of salt water and let them sit around for 30-60 minutes. This bath is also said to reduce the bitterness.

Meanwhile, fry up an equal amount of sliced onions in veggie oil (in batches) until they are reddish brown crispy. Remove them to a paper towel.

Now, drain the saltwater and rinse the bitter melon slices well. Into the onion oil toss the bitter melon and saute for awhile. Sprinkle with some turmeric, get everything nicely coloured. Clear a space and fry some whole cumin seeds in there and then mix them all in, and add the fried onions. Add chilli pepper to your desired heat level. You can either stand there and saute, or you can cover and add a splash of water now and then.

When it is done, it will be mainly dry. Garnish with chopped cilantro. It is great eaten with chapatis and plain yogurt. You can also add sprouted lentils when you cook it to ramp up the protein. Don’t forget to check the salt. The combo of brown fried onions and bitter melon is super.

Give it a try. If you don’t like it…

Oh well, more for me!!

Thanks for writing such good cookbooks!


You’re welcome Alia 🙂 Thank you for sending me a nice e-mail.

Now – who else is going to send in some recipes?

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