I can't seem to get enough of karela or bittergourd nowadays - I really love these ugly knobbly vegetables that look like a bit like rats with a long tail. A couple of days back, I went to my favourite "Indian" shop in Wellington for vegetables, and was beyond thrilled to find small baby karela for sale. I picked out the freshest 10 and came home joyfully, having decided how I was going to cook them. Stuffed, basically. I didn't want the stuffing to be the usual onion masala or potato masala or peanut-based masala - mainly because I didn't want to spend time cooking the stuffing. Bad enough that I would have to wait for the karela itself to cook.
So I just put together a random mixture of flours and spices, toasted the mix in a dry pan until fragrant, then used some oil and water to bind the powdery mix and make it amenable to stuffing, basically.
I admit that this recipe uses more oil than usual, but it's worth it if you love karela and only make it once in a while. It was SO delicious. I had the stuffed karela with lemon masoor dal and rice and a little ghee, and felt like I had gone to heaven without having to die first. Yes, THAT good.
So good that I forgot to take a photo before diving into the karela. Oops...
Recipe for: Stuffed karela
6-8 small (about 4-5 inches length) tender karela
For the masala paste
1/4 cup soya flour or jowar flour
1/2 cup chickpea flour (besan/kadalai maavu)
1/8 cup rice flour
4 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp aniseed powder
1/2 tsp fennel powder
1 tsp garam masala/rasam powder/any other masala you prefer
2 tsp red chilli powder (or to taste)
1/4 tsp asafoetida powder
Salt to taste
4 tbsp oil
1. Lightly peel the karela so that the ridges no longer stick out. Make a slit in each karela from end to end, being careful not to cut right through to the other side.
2. Use the handle of a small spoon to gouge out the inner seeds and membrane.
3. At this point you can rub salt on the inside and outside of the karela and let it sit for a few hours so that some of the bitter juices are drawn out. If you do this, be sure to squeeze the juices out, then wash the karela well to remove the excess salt. Pat dry with kitchen paper and reserve.
4. Mix together all the ingredients for the masala paste, bar the oil. Heat a pan and dry toast the mixed masala powder, stirring constantly, until the flours start to smell fragrant and savoury. Be careful not to burn it.
5. Once the masala mix is toasted, transfer it to a container. This might be more than you require, but you can always store the excess for another day in an airtight container. I prefer to make extra, because I don't like it when I find out halfway through stuffing that there isn't enough masala paste to fill all the karela. so you can use all of the toasted mix, or just half, depending on how many karela you have and their size.
6. Now add 2 tbsp of the oil to the masala powder and stir it in. The paste needs to come together enough that if you pinch some together, it shouldn't fall apart. You can add a bit more oil to get the powder to that stage, or you can add a little water. Either way, don't make it into a gooey paste.
7. Once the masala mix is ready, use your fingers to stuff it into the karela. Once they are all stuffed, you can use kitchen string to tie the karela so the stuffing doesn't come out (it tends to expand a bit as it cooks), but it's not strictly necessary especially if the karela is small.
8. Heat the remaining 2 tbsp oil in a pan and add 1/4 tsp asafoetida to it. As soon as it sizzles, put the stuffed karela in the pan and stir them gently so they are coated in the oil. Sprinkle 2-3 tbsp water over the karela and close the pan. Cook the karela covered over medium-low heat for 15 minutes or until they soften and turn a paler green. After that take the lid off and turn up the heat a bit more, occasionally turning them over, until they turn brown and crisp on all sides.
Serve hot with dal and rice.