July 19, 2022
Karela, the dreaded bitter melon of my childhood, was a favorite of my parents — my father, a deeply disciplined man, knew the health benefits of the fruit, but at the time but my brothers and I could not care less.
Fast forward to my adult years, I began to see the light. Once balanced and tempered with other seasonings, bitter melon transforms into a thing of beauty. It can be chopped up — peel, seeds and all — and turned into a sabzi, which is essentially a cooked vegetable, with caramelized onions, ginger, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. A touch of cardamom or cinnamon can offset the bitterness, as well.
Roasted karelas can be glazed with maple and chile and stuffed with all kinds of fillings, from cheese, potato and beans to pureed spinach. The seeds inside can be chopped up and cooked with the filling. Minced and added to lentil stews and braised potatoes, the peel works particularly well in roti dough, which simply swallows up the bitter flavor.
I can now safely say that karela is one of my favorite vegetables to experiment with. Naturally bitter foods are also revered in Ayurveda, bringing an essential balance to the salty, sweet, sour, pungent, and astringent flavors. Bitter melons are in season right now in Texas and Plant It Forward farm will have plenty in the next few weeks, so do go grab some.
1 pound bitter melons (about 8 to 10 skinny ones) 1/2 cup sugar Juice from 2 lemons 1 tablespoon sea salt
Filling: 4 plus tablespoons ghee
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon green cardamom pods, crushed
1/2 cup minced onion
2 tablespoons ginger puree
1 serrano pepper, minced
1 cup green peas
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt 1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup any melting cheese like cheddar or Swiss
2 to 3 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup
1/4 cup plain yogurt
Serves 4 to 6
Peel the bitter melons, reserving the peel for another use (see note).
Slice the melons through the middle, remove the seeds and set aside. Repeat this with all the melons. Soak them in a brine made with 2 cups water, sugar, lemon juice and salt. Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours or overnight. Drain.
To make the stuffing, in a medium frying pan over high heat, warm 2 to 3 tablespoons ghee and pop the coriander seeds. Immediately add the cardamom seeds, minced onion and karela seeds. Lower the heat, cover, and braise for 5 to 8 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the seeds have softened. Add the ginger puree, serrano, peas, and salt and cook for another minute, then turn the heat off. Let this mixture cool for 15 to 20 minutes, then combine with the 2 cheeses. Stuff each karela with the filling. At this point, the karela can be refrigerated for 2 to 3 days until ready to serve.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Lay the stuffed melons cut side up on a small baking pan. Drizzle the remaining ghee over them and roast in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cheese looks like it has melted, and the melons are bright green and cooked through.
Drizzle with honey, more ghee if you wish and serve along fresh lemons and plain yogurt.
Karela peel can be added to roti or bread doughs – the wheat tamps down the bitterness.
If there is any filling left over, spread it on warm toast for breakfast or throw it into an egg scramble.
To crush the cardamom seeds, use a mortar and pestle or crush them with a rolling pin.
December 02, 2022