There's a good chance you've searched for immunity boosting ingredients or recipes ever since the COVID-19 lockdowns began. One of the ingredients that might have popped up during those searches is bitter gourd - a vegetable packed with anti-oxidants. It also boasts of a high Vitamin-C content. If there's one thing I miss during this time, it's the health juice and smoothie counters at breakfast buffet counters that allow you to add healthy ingredients like bitter gourd into morning juices along with other fruits or vegetables. The perfect detox drink on an empty stomach. Bitter gourd (or bitter melon) doesn't just belong in juices though.
Across Asia, this vegetable is used creatively, nowhere more so than South India. There's more than just one way to cook bitter gourd, and therefore, increase the frequency of consumption of this vegetable that also contains phytonutrient, polypeptide-P - a plant insulin that helps lower blood sugar levels. Hence, this vegetable is recommended by diabetologists across India. Bitter gourd is a surprisingly versatile vegetable. I've discovered a variety of dishes across South India that are made with both sizes of this vegetable available in markets in the region.
Also Read: Why You Need to Start Adding Bitter Foods in Your Daily Diet
Here Are 3 South Indian Recipes That May Help Boost Your Immunity:
Recipe Courtesy - Viji Varadarajan
(Author and recipe expert)
This dish always evokes nostalgia and is one of the first bitter gourd dishes that I enjoyed as a child. I sampled an authentic version of this dish during a culinary session with Viji Varadarajan, culinary expert and author in Chennai. According to her, the key to this simple dish, is the pitlai powder or the simple masala that is used in this dish. A delicacy in many vegetarian homes, this is a dish reserved for special and festive occasions. This dish is best eaten with rice.
Bitter gourd: 200 gm
Tur dal: 1/2 cup
Thick tamarind pulp: 1.5 teaspoons
Asafoetida powder: 1/2 teaspoon
Turmeric: 1/4 teaspoon
Curry leaves: 10
Salt: 1/2 teaspoon (or to taste)
Cooking oil: 1 teaspoon
Mustard: 1/4 teaspoon
Cook the dal.
Quarter the vegetable discarding the inner seed (You could cook it with the vegetable if the seed is soft).
Boil the bitter gourd (add salt as you do) for 10-12 minutes or until tender.
Heat oil, pop the mustard.
Add cooked lentil, tamarind paste, the cooked bitter gourd and pitlai powder (you could buy this or make it at home. Dry roast a few pieces of coconut and then in a separate pan add asafoetida to a spoon of oil and then 2 tablespoons of urad dal and channa dal and then 3 tablespoons of coriander seeds and 10-12 red chillies. Grind this mixture along with the coconut and store in an airtight jar in a cool, dry place).
Simmer it for a few minutes till the gravy turns thick.
Add the crushed curry leaves and stir before you take it off the stove.
Pavakkya Pachadi - recipe
This traditional Kerala pachadi that I first sampled as part of a sadya (traditional banana leaf meal) in central Kerala is almost as delicious as a vendakai pachadi (bhindi raitha). This is a great way to serve bitter gourd and might even work for kids. Serve this with rice, sambar and a poriyal or thoran (stir-fried vegetables) or fried-fish.
Bitter gourd: 3-4
Green chilli: 1 (optional)
Curd: as required
Salt: to taste
Grated coconut: 50 gm
Mustard: 1 teaspoon
Red chilli: 1
Curry leaves: a few
Grind the coconut with 1/4 teaspoon of mustard seeds and a dollop of curd.
Clean the insides of the bitter gourd.
Fry the shallots till they change colour, then add the bitter gourd and slit green chilli.
Add this to the curd with the coconut paste and stir.
Temper the mustard, red chilli and curry leaves and pour it over the curd and bitter gourd, Stir well.
Pavaykkai (Bitter Gourd) Puli (Tamarind) Curry - recipe
This is a simple recipe that I first tried in Southern Tamil Nadu. It works only with the smaller, bite-sized bitter gourd. The tamarind (hence the name puli curry) and jaggery neutralise the taste of the bitter gourd. This dish is a great accompaniment for dosa or idli and can also be mixed with rice like a kuzhambu (thick gravy).
Small bitter gourd: 250 gm
Shallots (Small onion): 100 gm
Green chilli: 3-4 (slit)
Tamarind: size of a small lemon
Sesame oil: 1 tablespoon
Mustard seeds: 1/2 teaspoon
Grated jaggery: 1 tablespoon
Garlic: 5-6 pods
Fenugreek: 1 teaspoon
Curry leaves: a few sprigs
Sambar powder (optional) 1 teaspoon
Urad dal: 1 teaspoon
Salt: to taste
Chilli powder: to taste
Turmeric: 1/2 teaspoon
Soak the tamarind in warm water and extract the juice.
Temper the mustard, urad dal, fenugreek and curry leaves in sesame oil.
Fry the shallots in the oil, then add the garlic and salt and turmeric powder.
Once they brown add the bitter gourd and fry briefly. Add chilli powder if requited.
Add the tamarind water and the jaggery and let it boil till it reaches a thick gravy (kuzhambu) consistency.