Bitter gourd is a surprisingly versatile vegetable and has more than one way to cook


  • Bitter gourd (or bitter melon) doesn’t just belong in juices
  • There’s more than just one way to cook bitter gourd
  • This vegetable is recommended by diabetologists across India

There’s a good chance you’ve searched for immunity boosting ingredients or recipes ever since the COVID-19 lockdowns began. One of the ingredients that might have popped up during those searches is bitter gourd – a vegetable packed with anti-oxidants. It also boasts of a high Vitamin-C content. If there’s one thing I miss during this time, it’s the health juice and smoothie counters at breakfast buffet counters that allow you to add healthy ingredients like bitter gourd into morning juices along with other fruits or vegetables. The perfect detox drink on an empty stomach. Bitter gourd (or bitter melon) doesn’t just belong in juices though.

Across Asia, this vegetable is used creatively, nowhere more so than South India. There’s more than just one way to cook bitter gourd, and therefore, increase the frequency of consumption of this vegetable that also contains phytonutrient, polypeptide-P – a plant insulin that helps lower blood sugar levels. Hence, this vegetable is recommended by diabetologists across India. Bitter gourd is a surprisingly versatile vegetable. I’ve discovered a variety of dishes across South India that are made with both sizes of this vegetable available in markets in the region.

Also Read: Why You Need to Start Adding Bitter Foods in Your Daily Diet


Here Are 3 South Indian Recipes That May Help Boost Your Immunity:

Pavakkai Pitlai

Recipe Courtesy – Viji Varadarajan

(Author and recipe expert)

This dish always evokes nostalgia and is one of the first bitter gourd dishes that I enjoyed as a child. I sampled an authentic version of this dish during a culinary session with Viji Varadarajan, culinary expert and author in Chennai. According to her, the key to this simple dish, is the pitlai powder or the simple masala that is used in this dish. A delicacy in many vegetarian homes, this is a dish reserved for special and festive occasions. This dish is best eaten with rice.


Bitter gourd: 200 gm

Tur dal: 1/2 cup

Thick tamarind pulp: 1.5 teaspoons

Asafoetida powder: 1/2 teaspoon

Turmeric: 1/4 teaspoon

Curry leaves: 10

Salt: 1/2 teaspoon (or to taste)

Cooking oil: 1 teaspoon

Mustard: 1/4 teaspoon


Cook the dal.

Quarter the vegetable discarding the inner seed (You could cook it with the vegetable if the seed is soft).

Boil the bitter gourd (add salt as you do) for 10-12 minutes or until tender.

Heat oil, pop the mustard.

Add cooked lentil, tamarind paste, the cooked bitter gourd and pitlai powder (you could buy this or make it at home. Dry roast a few pieces of coconut and then in a separate pan add asafoetida to a spoon of oil and then 2 tablespoons of urad dal and channa dal and then 3 tablespoons of coriander seeds and 10-12 red chillies. Grind this mixture along with the coconut and store in an airtight jar in a cool, dry place).

Simmer it for a few minutes till the gravy turns thick.

Add the crushed curry leaves and stir before you take it off the stove.

Pavakkya Pachadi – recipe

This traditional Kerala pachadi that I first sampled as part of a sadya (traditional banana leaf meal) in central Kerala is almost as delicious as a vendakai pachadi (bhindi raitha). This is a great way to serve bitter gourd and might even work for kids. Serve this with rice, sambar and a poriyal or thoran (stir-fried vegetables) or fried-fish.


Bitter gourd: 3-4

Shallots: 8-10

Green chilli: 1 (optional)

Curd: as required

Salt: to taste

Grated coconut: 50 gm

Mustard: 1 teaspoon

Red chilli: 1

Curry leaves: a few


Grind the coconut with 1/4 teaspoon of mustard seeds and a dollop of curd.

Clean the insides of the bitter gourd.

Fry the shallots till they change colour, then add the bitter gourd and slit green chilli.

Add this to the curd with the coconut paste and stir.

Temper the mustard, red chilli and curry leaves and pour it over the curd and bitter gourd, Stir well.

Pavaykkai (Bitter Gourd) Puli (Tamarind) Curry – recipe

This is a simple recipe that I first tried in Southern Tamil Nadu. It works only with the smaller, bite-sized bitter gourd. The tamarind (hence the name puli curry) and jaggery neutralise the taste of the bitter gourd. This dish is a great accompaniment for dosa or idli and can also be mixed with rice like a kuzhambu (thick gravy).


Small bitter gourd: 250 gm

Shallots (Small onion): 100 gm

Green chilli: 3-4 (slit)

Tamarind: size of a small lemon

Sesame oil: 1 tablespoon

Mustard seeds: 1/2 teaspoon

Grated jaggery: 1 tablespoon

Garlic: 5-6 pods

Fenugreek: 1 teaspoon

Curry leaves: a few sprigs

Sambar powder (optional) 1 teaspoon

Urad dal: 1 teaspoon

Salt: to taste

Chilli powder: to taste

Turmeric: 1/2 teaspoon


Soak the tamarind in warm water and extract the juice.

Temper the mustard, urad dal, fenugreek and curry leaves in sesame oil.

Fry the shallots in the oil, then add the garlic and salt and turmeric powder.

Once they brown add the bitter gourd and fry briefly. Add chilli powder if requited.

Add the tamarind water and the jaggery and let it boil till it reaches a thick gravy (kuzhambu) consistency.

About Ashwin RajagopalanI’ve discovered cultures, destinations and felt at home in some of the world’s most remote corners because of the various meals I’ve tried that have been prepared with passion. Sometimes they are traditional recipes and at most times they’ve been audacious reinterpretations by creative chefs. I might not cook often but when I do, I imagine I’m in a cookery show set – matching measuring bowls, et all!

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