Karela Sabzi – Indian Spiced Bitter Gourd

bitter-melon indian curry


This is my first mention of Indian cuisine  – not curry, which is a more British invention and I will talk about later. Why the reticence? I think Indian cuisines are so sublime I needed to feel ready to share something SO close to my heart. But enough sentimentality! Let’s get on with the show.

This dish is quite simple but has a definite anatomy or structure which is common, though definitely not universal, in the Indian approach to cooking. The steps below are a guideline only. There are more exceptions than rules.

General Guidelines For Indian “curries”

  1. aromatic oil – whole spices are infused into hot oil, sometimes removed, but often left in
  2. onions – lots of them and long-cooked – for up to 30 minutes. There is an alchemy in long sautéeing of onions which only your nose will signal. Try it. You’ll see what I mean.
  3. masala – ground spices are tempered in the oil / onion mixture, often with tomatoes until the oil separates out – this is the point where the spices are properly cooked and won’t taste raw
  4. a top note of spice may be added at the end of cooking. Panch-poora (5-spice) and garam masala blends are often used for this purpose. An aromatic oil (tarka or sagar) serves the same function. Now the fresh fragrance of uncooked spices perfumes the deeper notes of the cooked-in flavours
  5. garnishes – dishes can be further aromatized with herbs such as mint or coriander and sharp citrus notes from lemons, limes, tamarind and, in Goa, even vinegar, courtesy of the Portuguese

We’ll refer back to these whenever cooking Indian. For now, here’s my recipe for Indian Spiced Karela

bitter-melon indian curry

Karela Sabzi - Indian Spiced Bitter Gourd with Aubergine

Bitter melon needs de-seeding and salting to remove excess bitterness. Check the previous post for instructions of how to achieve this. Whole aubergines can give a rather grey-brown looking result. To maintain a bright colour I peel my aubergines - it's up to you
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 35 mins
Course any time
Cuisine Indian
Servings 4


  • 2-3 large white or yellow onions thinly sliced or chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic finely chopped or pounded to a paste
  • 3-6 small green chillies cut in half lengthways
  • 3-4 tomatoes, roughly chopped or 1/2 can chopped tomatoes
  • 3-4 bitter gourds, scraped, deseeded and salted, then sliced
  • 2 aubergines, peeled and cut into small cubes

aromatic oil

  • sufficient oil to thinly coat the base of a pan use ay neutral tasting oil
  • 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 pinch whole fenugreek seeds
  • 1 pinch whole cumin
  • 5-6 peppercorns
  • 10-15 fresh curry leaves
  • 1-2 pinches hing (aesofetida)

masala (spice blend)

  • 1 tbs ground corander seed
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder (optional)
  • 1 tsp raw sugar, jaggery, honey or a pinch of stevia
  • salt to taste


  • 1 lime: juice and zest
  • 1 handful coriander leaves roughly chopped


  • heat the oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds and allow them to pop over a gentle heat. When the popping begins to settle add the fenugreek, cumin and peppercorns, saute for a few seconds, add the curry leaves, and finally the hing
  • add the onions and stir to coat them with the spiced oil. Cook the onions, covered, for at least 15 minutes - add a splash of water as needed to avoid over-browning
  • add the garlic and fresh green chillies and cook for a further 10-15 minutes
  • add the tomatoes and all of the ground spices. Cook. covered. over a very low flame until the oil begins to seperate from the tomato-spice mixture. A splash of water now and then will stop your mixture from sticking and burning
  • add the sliced gourd and aubergines, "sugar", salt and enough water to cover the vegetables. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are soft but retain some bite
  • garnish with the zest and juice of a lime and some roughly chopped coriander leaves
  • serve with rice, chapati or millet flat breads plus a fresh salad and a cooling yoghurt raita

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