Pagarkai Gojju (Bittergourd/Karela Spiced Gravy)

Srilatha Sides, South Indian Leave a Comment

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Pagarkai Gojju (Bittergourd/Karela Spiced Gravy)
This recipe was taught to me by my husband's cousin, Indu, who is a fabulous cook. The title "pagarkai gojju" means Bittergourd Gravy. Bitter gourd, or as its sometimes called, bitter melon, is a green vegetable that is very bitter and is used extensively in Indian cuisine. Gojju is a Kannada term for a spiced gravy that typically incorporates sour, pungent, heat, and sweet tastes. Add to it the bitter taste of the gourd, and this dish truly tickles every inch of the palate. The sourness comes from the tamarind, the heat from the red chilies, and the sweet comes from jaggery/gud/vellam/brown sugar or raw, unrefined sugar. This dish is my husband's favorite and is a real adventure in your mouth. On to the recipe now.
Course Side dish, Sides
Cuisine South Indian
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Servings
servings
Ingredients
  • 2 medium bitter gourds The smooth chinese variety is a bit less bitter; the one that looks a bit thorny is extremely bitter - ergo healthier 😉
  • 1 small lemon sized tamarind, soaked in warm water
  • 3 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
  • 1/2 sprig Curry leaves
  • 2 tsp oil, preferably sesame oil or gingelly (nallennai)
To Roast And Powder
  • 1/2 tsp oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut, defrosted if frozen
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds/vendhayam/methi seeds
  • 2 tsp black gram/urad dal/ulutham paruppu
  • 6-8 red chilies
  • 1/2 sprig Curry leaves
For Seasoning & Tempering
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 tsp Mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Hing/asafoetida
  • 1 red chili, optional
  • 1 tbsp gud/jaggery/brown sugar
Course Side dish, Sides
Cuisine South Indian
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Servings
servings
Ingredients
  • 2 medium bitter gourds The smooth chinese variety is a bit less bitter; the one that looks a bit thorny is extremely bitter - ergo healthier 😉
  • 1 small lemon sized tamarind, soaked in warm water
  • 3 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
  • 1/2 sprig Curry leaves
  • 2 tsp oil, preferably sesame oil or gingelly (nallennai)
To Roast And Powder
  • 1/2 tsp oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut, defrosted if frozen
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds/vendhayam/methi seeds
  • 2 tsp black gram/urad dal/ulutham paruppu
  • 6-8 red chilies
  • 1/2 sprig Curry leaves
For Seasoning & Tempering
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 tsp Mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Hing/asafoetida
  • 1 red chili, optional
  • 1 tbsp gud/jaggery/brown sugar
Instructions
  1. Soak tamarind in 1 cup of warm water
  2. Gather spices to roast and grind into a powder
  3. Chop the bitter gourd into small pieces. To do this, cut the ends off, and make a vertical slit in the middle of the gourd, and split it. Remove the cottony center part with the seeds with the knife (scraping works well), then chop into small 2 inch pieces
  4. Add 1 tsp of salt and the turmeric powder to the bitter gourd pieces, mix well and let it rest while you roast the spices
  5. Heat a small kadai; when hot, without any oil, add the sesame seeds and the fenugreek seeds and toast to a golden color; remove to a plate to cool
  6. Now add the half teaspoon of oil, and add the urad dal when hot; when it turns golden brown, add the chilies, curry leaves and toast on low heat, taking care not to burn the chilies; they should just be warmed enough to appear polished with the oil
  7. Turn the heat low, add the curry leaves and the defrosted coconut and fry till the coconut emits a wonderful toasty fragrance, and turns a beautiful reddish color
  8. Turn the heat off, and remove to a plate to cool
  9. Now, extract juice out of the soaking tamarind and keep it ready, enough to make about a cup and a half of juice
  10. Squeeze out the water from the bitter gourd which would have oozed out water with the salt
  11. Heat the vaanali/kadai/pot that you're going to make the dish in, add 2 tsp of oil. When it's hot, add the pagarkai pieces, and saute well for about 5-7 minutes
  12. Add the tamarind extract, and salt for the gravy and let boil for about 10 minutes, until it loses the raw smell of tamarind
  13. By now, the spice mix would have cooled down; powder coarsely in a coffee/spice grinder or a dry blender jar
  14. When the vegetable + tamarind mix has boiled enough, reduce the heat, and add the powder. The mix will start to bubble a bit now and tends to splatter (hence heat should be low). Gently incorporate the powder into the gravy, breaking up any lumps that form.
  15. The gravy only has to cook for a few minutes, about 3 to 4. At this point, you could optionally add a small piece of jaggery/vellam/gud. I don't always add it, as I feel it offsets the benefits of the bitter gourd. But most Indian cooking typically balances sour with sweet to make it complete, and to enhance flavors. A small amount of jaggery should be okay to add. Take off the stove, and heat oil in the same kadai used for roasting the spices for seasoning
  16. When the oil is hot, add mustard seeds, chili, and hing; switch the heat off when the mustard seeds splutter
  17. Pour the hot seasoning over the gravy; enjoy with hot rice, with a side of kootu.
Recipe Notes

This dish is truly a genius of south Indian cooking - balancing the flavors of a very bitter vegetable without hiding it, but completing it with the sour, sweet and pungent tastes of tamarind, jaggery and chilies.

It's an excellent side for white or brown rice. To make a complete meal, add a dal/kootu (dal with vegetables, cooked with mild spices).

In my younger days, I could not stand any sweet added to sour or spicy dishes - I was a true Tamilian that way - no in between or mixed flavors/tastes for my Tamilian tongue. It had to be all hot or all sweet. We used to make fun of our Kannadiga neighbors (as in state Karnataka, which is a neighboring state to Tamil Nadu) for making a sour dish sweet. But the adult me has matured enough to appreciate the mixed flavors - not everything has to be completely spicy or completely sweet. I now put salt on my fruits, which would have been unthinkable for the younger Sri!!!

Etymology:

Gojju is a Kannada term, spoken in Karnataka, one of the four states that make up south India. I understand it means gravy with spices, correct me if that's wrong, my Kannada friends!

Recipe Source:

My husband's cousin, Indu, who grew up in Bengaluru, Karnataka and makes many such wonderful Kannada recipes.

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