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Andhra-style sweet and spicy bitter gourd stir-fry

I do enjoy bitter foods (arugula, dandelion greens, kale, Brussels sprouts, to name a few) and try and get them as part of my diet regularly. Bitter gourds in particular are amongst my favorites. I use the rough-skinned Indian variety of bitter gourd that is quite intense, for a milder version you can substitute the Chinese smooth skinned variety.

Cooking this recipe is quite simple. I tend to cut the gourds in circles and keep the central soft tissue and the seeds, the seeds add a wonderful crunch to the dish that I like. However, you can feel free to cut them in half moons and scoop out the central tissue.

This traditional Andhra dish is absolutely spectacular and is probably my favorite way to make this vegetable. The combination of heat from the chilies, sour from the tamarind, sweet from the jaggery, and bitter from the gourds create an explosion of flavors on your palate. This is quite a simple recipe to make, and I would suggest making twice the volume, it is that good.

This is a wonderful cookbook that is packed with traditional dishes. The book was written by Archana Pidathala as an ode to her grandmothers cooking. This book is so much more than a collection of recipes, it brings to my table a history of the cuisine and people. Wonderfully written and with beautiful photographs, this cookbook fills a gap in my bookshelf in a cuisine that I know very little about.

For more delicious, and spicy, dishes from this cookbook, click here.


1 lb bitter gourd, sliced into thin rounds

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon salt


10-15 red chilies

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon poppy seeds

3 tablespoons desiccated coconut powder

3-4 tablespoons oil

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon split urad dal

3-4 dried red chilies

About 15 curry leaves

2 onions, finely minced

15 garlic cloves, finely minced

4-5 tablespoons tamarind extract

6-8 tablespoons jaggery

Salt, to taste

1/2 cup water

Cilantro, finely minced tto garnish

Boil the bitter gourd in water with the turmeric and salt for 25 minutes. Drain and remove as much water as possible by pressing down on the bitter gourds gently. Set aside. This step both cooks the vegetable, as well as, decreases the bitterness.

While the gourds are boiling, make the spice powder by dry roasting the spices, red chilies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, poppy seeds, and desiccated coconut individually till lightly toasted and aromatic. Grind to a fine powder in a spice mill. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a shallow pan or wok large enough to hold all the bitter gourd comfortably. Add the mustard seeds followed by the cumin seeds, urad dal, red chilies and curry leaves. Sauté for 45 seconds or till the mustard seeds begin to pop.

Add the drained bitter gourds and sauté on medium high heat till the bitter gourds start to get browned. Toss the vegetables in the pan often at this stage.

Add the onions and garlic and continue to sauté on medium high heat, tossing the mix frequently, till the onions are caramelized.

Turn the heat down to medium low and add the tamarind extract, jaggery and salt, toss to mix well and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add the water and bring to a simmer and mix well to coat the vegetables with the sauce. Cook till the water has almost evaporated, about 3-5 minutes.

Serve garnished with cilantro.

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