Yesterday we ate karela for dinner. It’s a vegetable eaten by many cultures around the world including China, Japan, India, Nepal, and various parts of Africa and the Caribbean. However, it is not a vegetable I ever encountered until the Nepalese influenced my diet.
But unlike other delicious Nepali foods– karela is not something I will be adding to my menu rotation, at least not when I’m cooking. The vegetable has other names that I think better represent the food’s flavor: Bitter Gourd or Bitter Melon, and the smaller South Asian version is even more bitter than the larger Chinese variation. Unlike sweet or even sour, bitter is not a taste I prefer to savor.
Karela wound up on our plates that night because P’s younger brother U had been visiting our house for the week for the Dashain holiday. Last night was his last evening, so he got to decide what we ate for dinner, and he decided on bitter gourd.
The vegetable looks like it is trying to impersonate a warty toad. Nepalese like to slice it into thin slivers along with onions and potatoes and fry with spices to make tarkari or achar.
While helping AS slice the vegetables I thought… hmmm, I better grab my camera and document, especially since this isn’t a vegetable that regularly graces my refrigerator.
Bitter gourd also apparently has many medicinal properties such as curing stomach ailments, purifying blood and circulation, I even read somewhere that laboratory tests suggest that compounds in bitter gourd could be effective for treating HIV!
So even though I’ve already decided which side of the karela divide I am on, I suggest giving it a go. It truly is a Nepalese favorite. If you want to try I found a recipe online that has a technique that supposedly helps to cut a bit of the bitterness. Let me know how it goes :)