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Oh Karela - Bittergourd with Onion and Tomatoes

Updated: Mar 18

Every year during the Summer holidays we followed the ritual of boarding ‘Punjab Mail’ from Kalyan to New Delhi, to spend our break with our cousins. On this journey, a big steel tiffin and a water cooler were always a part of our luggage. The staple in the tiffin was Rotis kneaded with Milk so they would stay fresh and survive the journey. Crispy Okra (Bhindi) fry and Cumin Potatoes (Jeera Aloo), Mango Pickle, and stuffed Bittergourd (Bharwan Karela). I hated Bittergourd with a passion, and somehow always managed to bully my brother to part with his share of Potatoes and pickle and slyly pass on the Karela that my mother would force me to eat to him. The dry, prickly skin of the Karela and the bitter aftertaste was something that I loathed with a passion, and no amount of eye-rolling and threats of thrashing from the mothership made me eat it.

However, I can now admit that both my taste buds and I have now grown up and I have grudgingly started to like this vegetable I once so despised. We only get huge Gourds here in Australia, so I usually chop them, soak it in a lot of water with salt for a few hours and then cook in a lot of Onions and Tomatoes which makes the end dish edible.

I find that the saltwater bath somehow tones down the bitterness, and the copious amount of Onion imparts a slight sweetness to the dish. Eaten with hot rotis drizzled with Ghee, the Karela doesn’t taste that sadela anymore (Bittergourd is bitter no more).

Recipe: Cooking time 45 minutes


  • 3 -4 large Bittergourds

  • 3 large onions thinly sliced

  • 2 tomatoes chopped

  • Salt to taste

  • 2 tsp Turmeric powder

  • 1 tsp Chilli powder

  • 2 tsp cumin powder

  • 1 tsp Sugar or Jaggery

  • 1 tsp fresh ginger paste

  • 1 tbsp Mustard/Rice Bran or Vegetable Oil

  • 1 tsp Cumin seeds


  1. Peel the bittergourd and cut them into round shapes. Soak them in a big bowl full of water and 1 tsp Salt. Leave them for 3 -4 hours.

  2. When ready to cook, drain all the water from the gourd, sprinkle a tsp of Turmeric powder, and mix well to cover the gourd with the turmeric powder.

  3. In a wok or flat pan, heat the oil. If using Mustard Oil, heat the oil to the smoking point and turn off the heat, let the oil cool for a few minutes before you start cooking. This will avoid the bitter taste that Mustard oil has.

  4. Add cumin seeds, ginger, finely sliced onions, and sugar. Cook till the onions start to brown.

  5. Add the gourd, salt to taste, and all the dry powders and cook for 15 minutes till the gourd starts to soften.

  6. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 20 minutes till the gourd is thoroughly cooked.

  7. Serve with hot rotis.

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