Momordica Charantia – AKA Bitter Melon or Karela
I’ve been coming across this knobbly green gourd for years in London, as I’m in the habit of frequenting Asian and Oriental shops and market-stalls where they’re ubiquitous. Yet, not knowing what to do with it I’ve simply passed it by.
I finally tasted the gourd in northern Thailand, from a simple street-stall outside the bus station in Chiang Mai. I wasn’t sure I’d like a bitter vegetable. In fact, I loved it. And no sooner had we landed back home than I had a bunch of them on my kitchen counter. Of East Indian origin, bitter-gourd, or to use its Hindi name, karela, is now grown and eaten all over tropical Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. In this instance, guided by Anjali, a friend from Madras, I cooked my first South Indian karela curry: well, yum!
Karela is reputed to reduce bad cholesterol and to have powerful anti-diabetic properties thanks to insulin-like compounds including momorcharin and momorcidin.
Studies have proved unsatisfactory on the basis of poor design, so the evidence remains anecdotal. However, with good levels of iron, potassium, magnesium, vitamins A and C, twice the calcium of spinach and twice the beta-carotene of broccoli there is good reason to add this super-gourd to your dietary repertoire.
The gourd’s bitterness is usually tempered using a number of methods. Here are some common ones
- using a paring knife scrape away the bumpy skin as you would a carrot or celery until they are almost smooth
- remove the seeds: top and tail the gourd then cut in half lengthways. Remove all the seeds, but especially the larger ones
- extract some of the juice by salting: place sliced gourds in a bowl, sprinkle on good sea-salt generously and leave for up to an hour. Now pick a handful of gourd slices and give them a big press with your hands to squeeze out as much juice as you can. Finally, thoroughly rinse off the greater part of the salt under running water
- The addition of sweetness in the form of sugar, honey, stevia or other sweetening agent will also balance the bitterness. As will the addition of acidity from lemon or lime juice, wine, cider or rice vinegar and tamarind pulp to name but a few alternatives
The next couple of posts are for a vegan South Indian curry and a simple Thai stir-fry with egg. I know I said we’d return to Mexico for naturally fermented corn dumplings (tamales agrios de Michoacán), and we will. But we haven’t got an airing cupboard in our London flat so we’ll wait for the warmth and sunshine of Spain where we’ll be from next week – to run a yoga retreat, funnily enough.