Daal bharay karele – The bitter delicacy

Published: March 19, 2015

Enjoy this delicious and nutritious recipe with a hot naan or roti! PHOTO: SUNITA SRICHAND

This is one of those jealously guarded recipes that rarely appear in blog posts and cooking shows. For one, bitter melon is not a vegetable everyone is fond of.

Karela (bitter melon) is a very popular vegetable in Bengali cuisine. Traditionally, the first course of Bengali cuisine is bitter, to cleanse the taste palate for the main course, much like smelling coffee beans which prepares the nose to appreciate and discern the scents in a perfume shop.

Daal is a soothing and comforting staple of vegetarians; the bitter savoury makes a delightful, nutritious combination preferred by many Bengalis.

It is one of those things, like olives and grapefruit, which require substantial exposure before you begin to enjoy its uniqueness. And, because it is an acquired taste, it’s not something chefs like to add on their menus in curry houses, understandably so, as chefs need a high turnover and short cooking time for their dishes and vegetables like bitter melon possesses neither of those qualities.

Housewives won’t put them on the dinner table while entertaining guests either because it is too humble a dish or out of fear that the guests may not have developed an appreciation for its bitter taste.

By some miracle if they find their way into your grocery basket, either because you were feeling experimental or you had heard that it lowers blood sugar levels, here is a way you could enjoy them. I must tell you that it takes a while to prepare them, around one and a half hour, which is why I only attempt to do so on a weekend, so ensure you have some free time on your hands before you roll-up your sleeves!


Bitter melon – 2 per person

Wheat flour – 2 tbsp

Moong daal – 200 grams

Onions – 2 (large)

Green chillies – 2 small or 1 large (optional)

Chopped coriander – handful

Garam masala –1 pepper corn, 1 small cinnamon stick, 2 cloves (whole)

Garlic – 2 cloves (chopped) or 1 tsp (puree)

Tomatoes – 2 (chopped) or 2 tbsp (puree)

Salt – to taste

Red chilli powder or paprika powder

Coriander powder – 1 tbsp (ground)

Turmeric powder – ½ tsp

Cooking oil

Thread spool

Serves two.


1) Cook the moong daal with twice its amount of water, adding salt and red chilli powder. Also add a spoonful of cooking oil as it helps the lentils stay soft and retains the water from boiling over. You don’t want a curry like consistency, so stop the cooking process when the grains are tender but before they bind together to form a paste.

Photo: Sunita Srichand

2) Now peel the bitter melons, slit them open and remove the seeds. There are very few people who can enjoy them with all their bitterness; the rest of us find ways to reduce the bitter taste. For this recipe, I rubbed two tablespoons of wheat flour on the bitter melons and refrigerated them for a few hours. I am not sure why but refrigeration does seem to reduce the bitterness considerably.

Photo: Sunita Srichand

3) After taking them out of the refrigerator, fill the bitter melons with moong daal and wrap them with the thread.

Photo: Sunita Srichand

4) Then shallow fry the melons on a medium flame, while stirring from time to time to ensure that the colouring is even. After it’s done, you can remove the excess oil.

Photo: Sunita Srichand

5) In a separate non-stick pan, prepare the masala by lightly frying the two onions with all of the garam masala, in two tablespoons of cooking oil. Add in garlic and salt, red chilli powder and coriander powder. Once you get a dark caramel like colour, remove this from the flame and grind it in an electric blender by adding half a glass of water.

Photo: Sunita Srichand

Photo: Sunita Srichand

Photo: Sunita Srichand

6) Now add this masala to the fried bitter melons. Put them in a pan and add in chopped tomatoes, green chilli and turmeric powder. Cover the pan and let the tomatoes cook, while simmering from time to time. When the water from tomatoes has evaporated and the curry is of a nice consistency, remove it from the flame.

Photo: Sunita Srichand

Enjoy this delicious and nutritious recipe with a hot naan or roti!

This post originally appeared here.

Sunita Srichand

Sunita Srichand

A Pakistani who currently resides in Netherlands. She has completed her MBA from University of Oxford and works with marketing for a packaged food brand. Her blog is about making food, in particular curry and her goal is to banish the myths surrounding Pakistani cuisine. She tweets as @sunitasrichand (twitter.com/sunitasrichand)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.