Bitter gourds originated in the Gulf of Bengal on the coast of Corromandel and made their way to most of tropical and sub-tropical Asia. They were first brought to Europe by way of sea in 1764. They had already reached China in the 14th century, where a different type (larger, oblong, lighter green and with a warty surface) had been selected and favored.
In the case of bitter gourds, there are so many beneficial medicinal and nutritional uses that it took just a little bit of cooking skills to find a way to overcome the bitter taste. First, fruits should be harvested at immature stage when dark green in color, similar to harvesting a cucumber. Then the center part that contains the seeds should be carefully scooped out. The remaining is cut into slices and ready to be cooked. To remove some of the bitterness, blanching is necessary and can be repeated up to three times, changing the water each time. The sliced fruits can then be prepared in several ways: stir fried, in salads and in curry dishes (as seen in the following recipes).
(Pictures of each recipe, in the order appear, are displayed in the Slideshow above)
Rougail de Margoze (from the Reunion Island)
• Two “Margozes” (bitter gourds)
• 2 Ripe tomatoes
• 1 Onion
• 1/4 cup curry powder
1. Wash the fruits, scoop out the seed cavity and cut into slices.
2. Blanch at least once, or up to three times, in order to remove either more or less of the bitterness.
3. In a sauce pan, start by sautéing the onions in a little bit of cooking oil; add the sliced tomatoes and the curry powder. Add a little bit of water and stir until tomatoes are melted. Add the sliced “Margozes” and salt to taste. Let simmer for about 15 minutes before serving with boiled rice.
Karela Massala (from India)
• Two “Karelas” (bitter gourds)
• 1 Onion
• Massala powder
• Turmeric powder
• Red chili powder
• 1 Bunch of cilantro
1. Slice and blanch the bitter gourds, using the same process as in the previous recipe.
2. In the sauce pan, start by sautéing the onion in cooking oil, and then add the three spices to your preference. Keep stirring; add a little bit of water. Salt to taste and add the sliced “Karelas”. Let simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Spread chopped cilantro on top and serve on flat bread known as chapati or with boiled rice.
Bitter Gourd Salad
• Two bitter gourds
• Lemon juice
• Olive oil
• One ‘Habanero’ chile
• One garlic clove
1. Clean, remove the seed cavity and blanch (only one time). Cut the bitter gourds into quarter slices.
2. Cool them under cold water. Mix with lemon juice, olive oil, and chopped ‘Habanero’ chile (after removing the seeds) and chopped garlic.
3. This might be too hot for some people to eat as a salad, but can also add a little bit of spiciness to a lot of oriental style dishes.
For more on bitter gourds, here is an article delving into the world of India’s treasured vegetable.