Karela curry (Bitter melon curry) Karela nu shak

Karela  is also known as Bitter melon or bitter gourd.  It  grows in tropical areas like East Africa and Asia.   There are several species of Karela and all are fine to use for this recipe.  I used the course and rough looking ones for my recipe.   Karelas are supposed to be very good for diabetics as long as you also make sure that you don’t add any sugar or jaggery to the recipe which some people tend to do as Karelas are quite bitter so an acquired taste.

This curry used to be one my mum used to make a lot for my dad as he loved karelas and really believed that it helped keep in diabetics in control.  it was usually served with bajra rotis (rotis made with millet flour) or chappatis.

In fact as I was preparing to make it, I was remembering my dad who used to be a vegetarian chef.   He used to cater for a lot of Indian weddings and other get togethers.  Catering for weddings used to be done at the venue and the clients would get all the cooking ingredients to the venue.   My dad never kept any diaries or lists. Everything was from memory and he had a great memory.  I can still remember my dad dictating the list of ingredients to the clients.  The day before the event, he would go to the venue and make sure all the ingredients were there.  He would delegate tasks like chopping, sorting etc to volunteers, soak any pulses or lentils that needed soaking and might prepare the Indian sweet on the day so that it would be cool enough to cut into chunks.  But if the client wanted sweets such as jalebis  – he would prepare the batter and cook them hot on the day.  I never saw him weighing anything or even tasting anything.  Most hindus don’t taste the food they cook as they like to offer the food as prashad before eating it themselves.   My dad could usually tell by the smell or colour how the food tasted.  Every time I meet someone from Kenya, they still talk about my dad and how good his cooking was.  Often I wish I had asked him to write down his recipes or video taped some of the food he cooked.


Ingredients for 4 servings:

  • 4-5 fresh karelas
  • 3 tbls oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp salt plus 1 tsp salt to soak the karelas in
  • 1tsp chili powder
  • 2 tbls dhana jeeru (coriander and cumin powder mixture)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2-3 garlic cloves (minced using a garlic press)


1.  Remove the outer ridged layer of the karela using a sharp knife or potato peeler and wash the karelas.  Cut the karelas into slices.  If the karelas are fresh and tender, you can keep the seeds.  If the karelas are either red inside or have seeds which feel hard, remove them.   Soak the karelas in a teaspoon of salt for half an hour or more and wash them again to remove the bitterness.

2.  Heat the oil in a non stick wok and add the mustard seeds.  Once they stop popping, add the chopped karelas and the spices -salt, chili powder, turmeric, half the dhana jeeru (coriander & cumin powder) plus  the garlic. Stir well and cook this covered until the karelas soften.

3.  Keep checking and stirring occasionally.  Once the karelas soften, and look dry – add the remaining dhana jeeru (coriander & cumin powder).  At this stage you may wish to add 2 teaspoons of sugar or jaggery if it’s the first time you are trying karelas.

3.  Serve hot with chapatis or bajra rotis  (rotis made with millet flour)


Have tried making my other Karela recipes listed below:

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