bittergourd – not a favourite of mine. why? cos its bitter in a way that could knock a person off! i love dark chocolate and coffee and am generally ok with bitter things, but the one time i took a bite of cooked bittergourd, it was enough to scare me off the vegetable for a very long time!
as i have come to realise (with the help of tips from a friend and a cooking show), probably the most important part of it all is choosing the right kind of bittergourd. when i was growing up, the only type i knew of was the small scaly kind. apparently, those are more bitter than their nicer counterpart – the longer, thick, smooth variety (as shown in the picture). now this not to say that the small kind should be ignored – its just that i havent found a way to best appreciate it, yet🙂 the second part of it is to use the spices to work in the flavour and block out the bitterness. this is not new to indian cooking, so no reinvented wheels there; but what i did do different this time round was to use salt to literally soak up the bitterness before cooking it. i got the idea from an italian cooking show where the chef used the same technique to lessen the bitterness of eggplant – voila!
the good thing about this recipe is that it is rather simple and hassle-free. so if you’re back from work and want to whip up something quick and easy, but something that is healthy as well – this is it. and yes, i do believe there are loads of health benefits to bittergourd. but more than anything – for me – so long as there is yet another way to make veges more interesting and easy to make, i am happy :)
(*Photo Source: www.justseeds.com)
1 or 2 Bittergourds (the large, thick, light-green kind)
approx 1/2 cup Salt (to coat and for taste)
1 – 2 tbsp Chilli powder (depending on taste)
a pinch Turmeric powder
1 tsp Mustard seeds
Oil (as needed)
Making the spicy bittergourd rings:
Cut off the ends of the bittergourd and throw them away. Slice the bittergourd into sligthly thick rings (about1/4 inch thick). There will be seeds in the middle of the rings – just push/core them out and throw them away as well. Put all the rings into a big bowl and scatter plenty – yes, loads – of salt and toss the rings and salt together. The idea is to make sure the rings are coated or even smothered in the salt. (Don’t worry, all the salt wont be going into the dish.) Cover the mixture and let it sit for about 10 minutes. When you open it, it will be quite watery – no worries, that is natural. Tip out the water and wash the rings so that the salt – and the bitterness – is washed off.
Drain the excess water off the rings (you can even place them on a clean towel to ensure that the water is drawn away – just dont use paper towels as these might stick onto the vegetables). Put them into a big bowl and sprinkle the turmeric and chilli powders and toss the rings again to coat (yep, lots of tossing to do!). Add a bit of oil to help the powder to coat the pieces better. This time, you are going to cook the mixture, so add only as much of the spices as you can take. Notice though that the salt is not put in yet.
Let the rings it sit again for about 10 minutes. When its done, heat a shallow frying pan on medium flame, pour in a teaspoon of oil and temper the mustard seeds. Tip in all the bittergourd rings and spread them out lightly. Add the salt and mix around gently. Let the bottom sides fry for a bit, then flip the pan to turn the rings around. Dont let either one side stand for too long or it might get burnt. Add oil minimally, and only if it looks too dry. Do the keep-flip routine until you feel the rings have cooked well enough.
This tastes great with rice or breads, or even as a snack with yoghurt.