Bitter gourd and potatoes (karela/uchhe bhaja)
Posted by fourclankitchen on September 18, 2010
In formal Bengali meals, a bitter course is often intercalated between other courses as a palate cleanser. As you read this, you can’t be thinking of medicinal bitter; or even Passover bitters. That puts you in the wrong frame of mind. You have to be thinking of that bit of bitterness that makes coffee or chocolate so enjoyable. Once you get in that mindset, bitter gourd (Momordica charantia, a cucumber/melon family member) has a lovely complex bitterness that is guaranteed to grow on you. Besides, it is really good for you. It is a staple of Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) Medicine and Indians believe that it cleanses your blood, has immune-boosting abilities and anti-malarial properties. Diabetics drink its juice to reduce their blood sugar levels.
You can think of this preparation as a starter bitter gourd dish because it is deep-fried and the accompanying potatoes cut the bitterness. Also in a family with mixed tastes, you can eat the bitter gourd while your children chow down on the fried potatoes. As you develop a taste for it, you can graduate to more complex bitter gourd curries or stuffed bitter gourd .
5 small bitter gourds sliced into1/8” coins [try to get the dark green ones (on the right) sold in Indian stores, the pale green stuff in regular groceries stores is more bitter and has a thicker skin].
2 medium sized potatoes, diced (I used Yukon gold)
¼ tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
Oil for deep-frying
Toss the bitter gourd and potatoes with turmeric and salt and set aside for 15 min. Then drain the vegetables in a colander. This extracts some liquid from the bitter gourd and reduces its bitterness. Heat the oil in a thin walled wok till it is smoking. Then add the bitter gourd and potatoes in batches to the oil (be careful- if you have left too much moisture in the vegetables, the oil could spatter). Deep fry until the vegetables are browned and cooked through. If you use a cast iron wok, this should only take about 5 min. per batch. Serve hot as a side with mung dal and rice or any other Indian meal.
Note: Pictures of the raw bitter gourds were taken from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitter_melon)