This quick pickle is an easy way to incorporate nutritious bitter gourds in your diet. It is light and healthy with mellow tangy flavors.
What are bitter gourds
Bitter gourd or bitter melon is a popular Asian vegetable. There are many varieties in use – small 2 inch long ones with pointy spines to almost beige looking 10 inch long ones with much more mellow flavors. But what all of them have in common is the characteristic crunch and bitter taste.
In Asia, this vegetable is relished year long. You plant one or two of the bitter gourd vines and there will be enough vegetables to go around from spring to fall. In the tropics, this hearty plant can be cultivated pretty much year around.
In Kerala, we call it pavakka or kaipakka (loosely translated to bitter fruit). In north India it is Karela and there are many regional name variations in between.
Kid hated, adult approved and revered in traditional medicine! Obviously, it is an acquired taste like – just like caviar or stilton cheese. But bitter gourds have something else going for them – it is much more economical and earth friendly to produce.
Bitter gourds (melons) are nutritious and credited to have medicinal properties. It is a good source of iron, potassium, magnesium, Vit C, Vit A dietary fibers, and beta-carotene. Many tout its health benefits for keeping blood sugar and cholesterol levels under check. Ref(1), Ref (2)
To be honest I was not a big fan as of bitter gourd as a kid. But as one gets older and the taste buds evolve you learn to appreciate it ( just like beer, wine, caviar, and stinky cheeses). That argument never flies with kids, so home cooks have to find ways to make it more appealing to the family. Adding sweeteners and deep frying seems to get the most results.
My favorite is the preserved (pickled or dried ) version. Typically in Kerala this means frying bitter gourd slices and mixing with a heavy dose of red chili powder and other seasonings.
This is my version – it is more mellow as it is made with fewer spices. It is easy to make and low in calories. After a couple of hours of resting there will be very little, if any, bitterness in it.
The picture above shows the ingredients that I typically use in this recipe. Garlic and lemon are other ingredients that goes well here.
How to make the pickle
Salting the bitter gourd
The key to toning down the bitterness is extracting some of the juices. Slice the bitter gourd and sprinkle some salt over the slice. Let it sit for 20 to 30 minutes, by which time the salt draws out a lot of the moisture from the pieces and the bitter flavors along with it. Give a gentle squeeze to extract the juices.
Make the seasoned oil
Heat the oil in a pan. When hot add the spices. Let it seep for a minute so that flavors infuse the oil.
Cook the gourds.
Add the bittermelon pieces to the hot oil, stir, cover and let cook for a few minutes until just softened – 5 to 8 minutes covered.
Add vinegar, mix taste and adjust the salt. Remember there is salt in the gourds from the extraction process.
Cover cool and bottle!
I can roll it in in a tortilla with a few pieces of grilled fish and call it a meal.
Simple and delicious!
- 3 C Bitter gourd sliced
- 3 Green chilies
- 2 Tbsp Ginger sliced
- 5 Cloves Garlic optional
- 1 Stalk Curry leaves optional
- ½ Tsp Fenugreek seeds
- ½ Tsp Mustard seeds
- ¼ C Gingelly oil / Vegetable oil
- ¼ C Vinegar
- 2 – 3 Tbsp Salt use as needed
- Wash and pat dry the bitter gourd/s. Slice lengthwise and remove the seeds. Slice into ¼ inch thick pieces. Sprinkle 2 tbsp of salt on top of the slices, toss and set aside for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Press the bitter gourd slices gently by hand to remove the juices. Use a strainer to help if needed. Save the slices.
- Heat oil in a non-reactive thick bottomed pan ( Indian kadai or a saute pan or wok). When hot add mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. When it splutters, add curry leaves (if using), sliced ginger, garlic (if usinand green chilies. Let the spices fry for a minute. Add the bitter gourd to this mix well. Cover the pan and let it cook for 5 to 8 minutes over medium heat.
- Check the vegetables and it should be just softened. Add turmeric powder and mix. Mix in the vinegar and taste. Add more salt if needed.
- Turn off the heat and let it cool. The pickle can be used immediately, but tastes better after a few hours.
- Bottle and refrigerate for upto 2 weeks.
- Gingelly oil is sesame oil
- Adjust chilies to your taste. When left whole the flavors of the chili infuses the pickle without making it spicy hot
What to do with bitter gourd juices
Along with the bitterness the juices contain nutrients. You could drink it as it is or dilute with chilled water, a squeeze of lemon for a refreshing drink.