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Bitter melons or "korola" and "uchhe" as they are called in Bengali are used a lot in Bengali cooking. I am a big fan of these vegetables not only because I love bitter foods but also because they are good for you. So here is my tribute to one of my favorite veggies, the bitter melon! This page will tell you all about the bitter melon, its health benefits and also how it is eaten in Bengal. I have included some Bengali bitter melon recipes but if you know of others please feel free to email them to me and I'll post them here.

On a more personal note, I would like to mention that I have witnessed first hand the power of bitter melon to cure late(age) onset diabetes - all it took was a small glass of fresh bitter melon juice every morning on an empty stomach for a few months!

Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia) is a member of the Cucurbitaceae (gourd) family, and a relative of squash, watermelon, muskmelon, and cucumber.

Common Names

English: bitter melon/gourd
Chinese: ku gua, foo gwa
Filipino: ampalaya
Hindi: karela
Thai: mara
Malay: peria katak
Japanese: tsuru reishi
Indonesian: pare pahit
Vietnamese: muop dang
Dutch: springkomkommer
French: assorossie
German: wunder-balsamapfel
Italian: balsamini lunghi
Spanish: balsamina

Description: Green, oblong, warty skin, 1-8 inches long. It is filled with large seeds, which are loosely packed in the spongy flesh. The Indian variety is saw-toothed like crocodile skin and the seeds are small and tightly packed in the flesh.

Selection: Select firm light to dark green Bitter Melon, free of soft spots.

Storage: Refrigerate covered and unwashed up to 4 days.

The Plant: Bitter melon grows in tropical areas, including parts of East Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and South America, where it is used as a food as well as a medicine. The fruit of this plant lives up to its name-it tastes very bitter. Although the seeds, leaves, and vines of bitter melon have all been used, the fruit is the safest and most prevalent part of the plant used medicinally.

Health benefits: As a nutrient source, bitter melons are rich in iron. As for its medicinal value, at least three different constituents in bitter melon have been reported to have hypoglycemic (blood sugar lowering) or other actions of potential benefit in diabetes mellitus. Two bitter melon proteins have been shown to inhibit the AIDS virus and an as yet unidentified constituent in bitter melon may benefit people with psoriasis. It has been recommended by the Department of Health of the Philippines, as one of the best herbal medicines for it's ability to help with liver problems. It is also an excellent natural remedy for the common cold, works in only 3-5 days. A component in the seeds has recently been found to have immunosuppressive properties and may be beneficial to people with autoimmune diseases.

Eating Bitter Melon the Bengali Way: As with all other bitters foods, bitter melon preparations are always eaten at the start of a Bengali meal with plain boiled rice. Some of the traditional ways of cooking this vegetable in Bengal include deep frying bitter melon slices, adding bitter melon to Moong dal, boiled bitter melon mashed with potato, and the most famous of all a light stew of bitter melon and other vegetables known as "Shukto". Green bitter melons are also enjoyed as part of other vegetable curries for example stir fried with potatoes or curried with with eggplant and onions. When bitter melons become ripe they turn orange and the seeds turn red, these ripe bitter melons are also eaten grilled and then mashed. Serving bitter foods at the begining of a meal helps get digestive juices flowing for the rest of the meal, which if it is a Bengali meal, can be a long, elaborate and sumptuous affair!


Bengali Bitter Melon Recipes

Korola Bhaté (Mashed Bitter Melon)

If you are using green bitter melons, boil them and then mash them. You may eat or leave out the seeds. Adding some mashed boiled potatoes to this also tastes good and helps reduce the bitterness. Add salt and dried red chili peppers fried in oil (add both the chillies and oil). Mash until there are few or no lumps and just scoop out a serving. Serve with plain boiled rice as a starter.

For ripe bitter melons, coat them in vegetable oil and grill or roast them whole then mash them. Mix in salt, mustard oil and chopped chili peppers (red or green) as seasoning. Again you may leave out the seeds if you wish. Serve as a starter with plain boiled rice although these are not so bitter.



Korola Bhaja (Fried Bitter Melon)

1. Slice the bittermelon (like you would a cucumber) and coat the slices with turmeric powder and salt. Leave to sit for 5 minutes.
2. Meanwhile heat oil for deepfrying in a karai or wok. Deep fry the slices; some people prefer thicker slices fried til they are just cooked but still green and soft while others prefer wafer thin slices fried til they are crunchy and become dark bitter melon chips.
3. Again you may remove the seeds if you like before eating. Serve with plain boiled rice as a starter. Very delicious!


Thétor Dal (Bitter Melon with Lentils)

1. Boil moong dal (split yellow moong/mung beans or lentils) in water until half done.
2. Lightly stir fry cubes of bitter melon and onion slices flavored with cumin seeds, chopped red/green chillies and grated ginger in some vegetable oil or even better in some ghee.
3. Add this to the boiling dal, also add salt and some turmeric powder.
4. Boil until both bitter melon and dal are fully cooked.
5. Serve with rice as a starter, this is a thick dal, not a watery one.


Thito (Bitter Melon curry)

1. Heat oil in a vessel, fry plenty of sliced onions.
2. Add chili, cumin and turmeric powders, stir in.
3. Add cubed eggplant (brinjal/aubergine) and cubed bittermelon (equal amounts).
4. Stir fry for a few minutes then add salt and a little water if needed, cover and simmer til veggies are cooked (should not have much gravy).
5. Serve with plain boiled rice as a starter.


Uchhe Aloo Bhaja (Bitter melon stir fry)

1. Chop bittermelon, potatoes and onion.
2. Heat some oil in a frying pan
3. Fry a crushed dry red chili pepper in this oil
4. Now add the veggies and a little turmeric powder. Stir fry for several minutes
5. Add salt, mix, then cover pan and allow to cook on low heat until the veggies are done.
6. Serve with plain boiled rice as a starter.


Shukto (Bitter Mixed Vegetable Curry) - our family recipe

1. Dice the following vegetables: bittermelon, potato, horse radish (mooli), plantain (green banana), eggplant (brinjal/aubergine), kochu (taro).
2. Stir fry each vegetable seperately in some oil and keep aside.
3. Grate some ginger and grind 1 teaspoon of mustard seed.
4. Fry some "bori" (mung dal wadi) and also keep aside.
5. Now heat some oil in a large vessel, add 1 tablespoon of panch phoron and wait for it to sputter. Then add the ginger and mustard seed paste.
6. Add all the vegetables and bori, stir to mix the ingredients well.
7. Add salt and sugar (this dish is supposed to be slightly sweet)
8. Add water and bring to boil, cover and simmer untill veggies are cooked.
9. Add a tablespoon of ghee at the very end.
10. Serve at room temperature with plain boiled rice as a starter.

Korola Shorshe (Bitter melon curried in mustard sauce) from Rina Chatterjee
    1. Cut bittermelon into small pieces.
    2. In a pan heat some oil and fry some "kala jeera".
    3. Add some chopped green chili peppers.
    4. Next add the bitter melon and fry in this spiced oil.
    5. Blend a smooth paste of mustard seeds, salt and dried red chili pepper in some water.
    6. Add this to the bittermelon in the pan.
    7. Add salt to taste and lots of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
    8. Boil until the bittermelon is cooked and most of the water has evaporated.
    9. Add a little mustard oil at the very end.
    10. Enjoy with plain boiled rice as a starter.

Credits: These resources were used in creating this page, visit them to learn more about bitter melon and/or Indian cooking.
1. CDFA Plant Health and Pest Prevention Services Website 2. Nick's Gallery 3. Amazingherbs.com 4. Univ. of California - Small Farm Center website 5. Mothernature.com 6. NSW Agriculture website 7. Tropipak Distributors Ltd website 8. IHD: Access to Asia Thesaurus 9. Sanjeev Kapoor Food Site (pictures only)

1998-2008. All rights reserved. Sutapa Ray Back to the Recipe Index