Is it a cucumber? I asked naively, only to be told that it wasn’t. Well, what is it then? I really wanted to know the name of this vegetable in English, so that I knew a bit about what to expect from it. No one knew, and in the end I had to look it up on the net- to find the answer under someone else’s plaintive plea ‘What is Karella?’ What indeed! Luckily 2 people had answered the question, giving one of its names each. Ok, so now I know what it’s called. I’d eaten it by then, of course, and knew all about this bitter taste. Personally, I like it, but I could understand if you didn’t. It has a particularly bitter taste, unlike anything else I’ve eaten, and is one of those food items that is an acquired taste.
It would be good if you could acquire it, though, as recent medical studies have borne out the claims of traditional medical practitioners of the subcontinent; it helps diabetes sufferers. Although research is still continuing there are hopes that this bitter little vegetable will “probably” delay or “perhaps” prevent cancer, and studies are being conducted into it could help in the treatment of HIV.
In traditional medicine,(it grows in East Africa, Asia the Caribbean and South America) it is used to relieve fatigue, and the Chinese use it to quench their thirst.
You prepare this strange beast by slicing it in half lengthwise to remove its seeds, These can be dried, then ground to a powder and used to flavour Pakora (see recipe) and other dishes. Alternatively the oil from the seeds is good to put on wounds. Some people boil one whole and then drink the cooking water to lower blood pressure. (You boil one for about an hour.)
There’s a National Bitter Melon Council in the States- a fledgling organization at the present time, and you can find these in Asian shops in the UK. However, if their healing properties are proven, they will undoubtedly be stocked in the big supermarket chains.
TASTY TRADITIONAL KARELLA
1 kilo karella
½ kilo minced meat
4 onions chopped
4 tomatoes peeled and chopped
1 inch ginger finely chopped
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
6 green chillies, finely chopped
½ handful mint leaves, shredded
½ handful coriander leaves, shredded
1 cup natural yoghurt
1 cup oil
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp garam masala (see recipes)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp ground pomegranate seeds
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Scrape the knobbly bits off the skin of the karella, so that it’s completely smooth. Cut the karella into 1 inch rounds and remove seeds with your thumb, by pushing them out, or a teaspoon.
Now rub all the pieces all over with salt inside and out, but take care not to break the circles of karella. Leave for 15-20 mins until all the bitter juices have come out. Wash them with cold water to remove salt and remaining juices. Dry on absorbent paper.
Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the karella pieces for 5 mins. Remove the karella and put them in a bowl. Add the onions to the oil, and fry for 5 mins then remove and put in the same pan as the karella.
Now fry the garlic and ginger for 2 mins. Add the tomatoes and minced meat, the spices and the ground pomegranate seeds, plus seasonings. Don’t add too much salt as the karella is a little salty. Cook this mixture for 15 mins.
Pour the yoghurt into the pan with the minced meat, and stir it well so that it is mixed throughout the meat.
Add the karella and onions to the pan along with the green chillies and cook over a low heat for 5 min.
Remove from the heat and add the fresh mint and coriander leaves. Allow to stand for 5 mins then serve with chapattis, naan, pitta or other breads and a salad.
This has Taste and is a Treat.