Mamta's Kitchen

Bitter Gourd Bhaji/Sabji With Tamarind

Karela Sabji/Bhaji, with Imli

Mamta Gupta

Bitter Gourd or Bitter melon or Karela fruit, botanical name Momordica charantia, is a tropical vegetable, very popular in India and China. Chinese Karela looks less spiky than the Indian one, it is lighter in colour and it is perhaps a little less bitter.

Karela has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. It’s juice is an excellent for diabetics (because it contains high doses of plant insulin. It is good for itching, rash, acne, boils, scabies, ringworm and psoriasis. It is antipyretic (reduces fever). For medicinal purpose, it is best to have juice of raw karela, which is not easy to drink, as it is extremely bitter. When cooking, other souring agents are usually added, in order to remove the bitterness. In north India, this means raw mangoes, fresh or dried. In this version, tamarind is used instead. Karelas are eaten in small quantity, rather like a pickle and they are an acquired taste, you either love them or hate them! Serves 4-6

This dish freezes well. I freeze it in portion sizes, in zip-lock bags or small plastic containers or even small jam jars. I never buy jars, they are the empty ones from whatever I have used up.

Edited December 2017


  • 500 gm. karela or bitter-gourd/melon. Buy fresh, tender and green looking ones

  • 2-3 large onions, peeled

  • 2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated or chopped small.

  • 4-5 green chillies, finely chopped. You can also have a few green chillies whole.

  • 3-4 tbsp. mustard oil. You can use more and drain off after cooking.

  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds

  • 2 tsp. fennel seeds (sonf), thickly ground.

  • 1 tsp. chilli powder, more if you like it hot.

  • 1 tsp. turmeric powder

  • 2 tsp. coriander powder

  • 1 tsp. cumin powder

  • Salt to taste

  • 1 tbsp. tamarind pulp*. You can use 2 tbsp. of amchoor (dry mango powder) or kokum** powder or anar-dana powder (pomegranate seed) instead. In India, often puréed green mango flesh is used.

  • 2 tsp. jaggery/brown sugar

  • *You can buy ready-made tamarind purée from Oriental grocers, much better than the dark coloured tamarind concentrate.It is just tamarind pulp with fibrous bits removed. You can make your own pulp, see notes.


  1. To prepare the karela:

  2. Scrape the rough skin off the bitter gourd/karelas gently. You don't need to do this in very fresh and tender karelas or in Chinese karelas.

  3. Top and tail and slice into 1/2-1 cm. thick slices.

  4. Slice onions thickly. They should be roughly same in volume as sliced karelas.

  5. Heat oil. Add ginger and onions and fry for a few minutes.

  6. Add karela slices and green chillies.

  7. Add all the spices and salt. Stir to mix. Cook covered on medium heat, stirring from time to time.

  8. When tender, add tamarind pulp and jaggery/brown sugar continue to stir-fry, until all water is evaporated and oil begins to separate. Onions and karelas should look browned and a little shiny. Undercooked karelas can taste quite bitter.

  9. Serve hot or cold, as part of an Indian meal.


  • Making tamarind pulp; soak approximately 2 inch piece of tamarind block in warm/hot water. Mash it well. Remove seeds and fibre by straining through a metal sieve. The end result should be a thick, batter like tamarind pulp.

  • This dish freezes well and can be made in bulk.

  • Also see: Stuffed Bitter Gourd or Bharwa Karela

  • **Kokum or Gamboge, Garcinia xanthochymus is a fruit grown in southern and western India. Kokum dry slices are sometimes used in curry, to give it a tangy or sour taste, similar to tamarind and amchoor (dry mango powder).

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