I do enjoy bitter flavors and bitter gourds are amongst my favorite. Indian cuisine cooks bitter gourds using a variety of methods, fried as chips, stuffed, sautéed, and curried.
This curry in particular is excellent and takes advantage of the complexity of mappila-style cooking. The spicy gravy balances the bitter flavors and this curry packs a punch. The addition of roasted coconut and roasted shallots to the curry adds a light sweetness to the dish that is beautiful. You can serve this curry with rice, but I also serve it with appams.
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1/2 lb tender bitter gourd
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
4-6 dried red chilies, or to taste
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon anise seeds
1 cup grated coconut
6 shallots, peeled and halved
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, finely diced
3-4 green chilies, sliced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup water
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
10-12 curry leaves
6 shallots, finely sliced
Cut the bitter gourds along the vertical axis into narrow strips. If desired, remove the inner pith, but I like to keep it. Add to a pot with water and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes till cooked and soft. If you would like a less bitter curry, change the water out after 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, dry roast the chilies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and anise seeds individually till fragrant and lightly colored. Cool and grind into a fine powder in a spice mill or coffee grinder. Set aside.
Dry roast the grated coconut till dry and lightly colored. Dry roast the shallots till cooked and charred in spots. Mix together with the water in a small blender and purée to a fine paste. Set aside.
In a pot, add the oil and heat on medium flame. Add the onions, green chilies and garlic and cook till the onions start to turn a light golden. Add the dry spice powder and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the cooked bitter gourd and toss well and heat up.
Add the water and the tamarind and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes. Add the coconut purée and salt and simmer for 12-15 minutes. Taste and adjust salt and tartness, If you add more tamarind paste cook for an additional 5 minutes. Take off the stove and set aside.
To add the temper, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. They will pop in 20 seconds, add the curry leaves and shallots and sauté for 3-4 minutes till the onions are well browned. Drizzle the temper over the curry.
Serve hot with rice.