Chittagong Bitter Gourds Chana Dal

Exiting a Tokyo subway through a department store,  I got besotted with an “MPC” (microwave pressure cooker) prominently displayed.  The microwave is my usual trusty sous-chef and pressure cooking is my way of life: but the twain had never met!  So, I promptly bought the MPC and lugged it all the way back to New York.  Later I noticed that the MPC is made in India- talk of the world being a global village.

Here I give a simple recipe (courtesy: my friend from Chittagong, Kamal) using the MPC . A bitter gourd has its namesake taste and can be bought at most  Indian green grocers’. This is also local to Okinawa where it goes by the name “goya”. The Chinese bittermelons are a little milder.  Either can be used here. I am told the bitterness is good for you and so it is no surprise that I now see cartons of bitter gourd juice in Indian supermarkets.

There are many ways to reduce the bitterness of the gourd/melon: salting and draining of its bitter juices,  or masking the bitterness with tamarind and sugar, or crisping through deep-frying, to list a few. But here is a recipe that is utterly simple and yet magically tames the bitterness. And, the taste is wonderful with the lentils mildly flavored by whole spices.

To each his own. My Lebanese friend Pierre said that once a South-East Asian made bitter gourds for him with great love; but he had to spit it out to the great amusement of his children.  This recipe may be perfect for him. On the other hand, I was surprised to learn that my Dad does not like this one,  since it is not bitter enough!!

karela-chana

Special tools:

pressure cooker or microwave pressure cooker

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb bitter gourds or bitter melons, cut into small peices
  • 2 medium sized tomatoes cut into small peices
  • 3/4 cup chana dal or yellow lentils, soaked in plenty of water for 1 hr and drained
  • Seasoning whole spices (SWS): 1/4 tsp each of whole black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, anise seeds +  1 dried chile de arbol
  • 1 tbsp avocado oil
  • a pinch of turmeric
  • salt to taste

Method

Heat the oil in a frying pan and add all the SWS ingredients till the spices sputter and fragrant (less than a  minute or so). Add the gourd pieces and saute for 2 minutes until well coated.

In a pressure cooker add all the ingredients together and 1 cup water. Pressure cook, following your instructions manual, until the gourds are soft.

Serve with hot steaming rice.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1.  The SWS can be replaced by 1 tsp of the whole spice mix  pancha phutana.
  2. The same recipe can be used for green papaya or kohlrabi, instead of the bitter gourds.
  3. A stove-top pressure cooker takes 5 minutes at pressure. A microwave pressure cooker takes longer: it took me 12 minutes.  There are many factors involved in pressure cooking, so you have to experiment with the equipment you have at hand.
  4. I have tried this recipe in a regular pan on the stove (not a pressure cooker). I was curious whether the pressure helped in getting rid of the bitterness. But it turns out that it works out perfectly well even without the pressure.   The dal should be well soaked (at least a few hours)  and cook for 15-20 minutes on simmer. This also needs more water. So keep an eye on it.
  5. You could add garam masala at the end, if you so wish.  I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to spicing.  I found the flavors satisfying enough that I did not use it.

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5 thoughts on “Chittagong Bitter Gourds Chana Dal

  1. Initially I thought that the pressure cooker had its own microwave. But I think its more like a pressure cooker that you can put inside a microwave. In any case I want one … Is “bitter gourd” the same thing as “ucche” or “korolla” ?

  2. Yes “karela”. You may be able to order the microwave pressure cooker online. Be careful about the size; it should fit your microwave. I would suggest size of around 2 liters.

  3. I love reading about the recipes. You have a very special way of describing each one.
    Back to the dish – I will definitely try this.
    We make the same thing with doodhi and ridge gourd. Never tried it with karela. I also add some garlic in my version and love the taste.

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