A delicious stuffed bitter melon recipe popular in North India. Bitter melon is stuffed with caramelized sweet onions and aromatic spices to make this fantastic vegan and gluten-free side dish.

stuffed karela with onion and lime on the side
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Like many others, I didn’t liked karela as a kid, but it is my favorite now. We often wondered how bitter gourd could taste good to anyone. After all, the name suggests the dish is bitter 😉

However as you grow up, this dish grows on you as well. I have realized that when cooked well, stuffed karela is delicious, just like my Karela Stir Fry recipe.

I love my mom’s stuffed karela recipe. Stuffed with dry spices or, as in this recipe, with onion masala. You can also use gram flour/besan to make the stuffing too.

Traditionally the bitter gourd is shallow fried once stuffed, however you can also air fry it. This makes is easier with less monitoring needed while frying and also is healthier with less oil used to cook the karela.

When I put pictures of this recipe on my Instagram stories, many people asked me for the recipe. So, here it is for all of you!

This isn’t an easy recipe because it takes a longer to cook. But I promise that the result will be well worth it.

You’ll also like my Bharwa Bhindi and Bharwa Baingan recipe.

Watch How to Make Bharwa Karela

What is Bharwa Karela?

Bharwa Karela translates to stuffed bitter gourd in English. Bharwa translates to ‘stuffed’, and karela means ‘bitter melon’, also called ‘bitter gourd’.

This is a popular dish from North India, where bitter gourd is stuffed with spices or onion masala, and fried to make a delicious side dish.

The stuffing using for Bharwa Karela can vary in different regions, or even households. Some use just dry spices, while other use sautéed onions with spices, and others use raw mango as stuffing.

The bitter gourd and sweet sautéed onions balance the flavors for each other. Hence using a stuffing of sautéed onions with spices is my favorite version.

Even though karela tastes a little bitter, it is perfect for people with diabetes, heart disease, and constipation. It is also suitable for the immune system, weight loss, liver health, and a lot of other things, so we should include it in our diet in any way we can.

It’s a great vegan side dish to enjoy with roti or paratha. Karela also stays good for a long time at room temperature, hence this is a wonderful option for side dish when traveling.

Stuffed Bittermelon Ingredients

Karela: Use fresh tender bitter gourd. Avoid ones that are too mature and have lots of large hard seeds.

Onions: I prefer to use red onions, but yellow onions will work too.

Mustard oil: Traditionally, karela is cooked with mustard oil. It gives a unique flavor to the cooked dish. However, you can use any vegetable oil of your choice. When cooking with mustard oil, remember to heat it till it smokes.

Spices: You’ll need turmeric, Kashmiri red chili powder, coriander powder, ground cumin, and fennel powder.

Amchur / Dry Mango Powder: It is the tangy ingredient in this recipe. But you can use tamarind paste/pulp or lemon juice too. Some people like to add grated raw mango to the filling too.

Ginger and Garlic: I like to use finely diced garlic and grated ginger.

How to make Stuffed Karela?

Prepare Karela & Remove Bitterness

  • Wash karela, and then using a knife or peeler, scrape the outer skin. Save the skin, as we will use it for the stuffing. It is optional to add the scrapes (or peels) to the stuffing, but we like to add them and they taste delicious.
  • Make a slit in the karela lengthwise. Do not split it in half. Now remove any large hard seeds using a spoon (you can use your fingers, but it can be harder).

Pro-tip: Some people like to remove the inside of the bitter gourd completely and then stuff it. However it not necessary to remove all the seeds. You mainly want to remove the hard seeds which cannot be consumed.

  • Apply salt thoroughly on the inside and outside of all the karela and keep aside for at least 30 minutes. This helps to reduce bitterness.
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to the scrapings kept aside too, and let them rest for 30 minutes. (Note: using the scrapings is optional, but I like to use them in the stuffing)
  • Now wash karela with fresh water two to three times and squeeze them thoroughly to remove the salt and bitterness. You can also wash the karela under tap water.
  • Similarly, wash the scrapings with fresh water 2-3 times and squeeze any excess liquid.

Prepare Stuffing

  • Heat a pan on medium heat. Add oil to it, and let it heat. If using mustard oil, heat the oil till it smokes.
  • Now add asafoetida and scrapings (also called bhor) to the pan. Cook for about 7-8 minutes on medium heat until the color changes to dark green. (Note: if you are not planning to use the peeled scrapings, then skip this step)
  • Add the onions, ginger, and garlic to the pan. Give it a good stir. Cook covered for about 3 minutes to soften the onions. Then cook uncovered for 2-3 minutes till the onions are lightly golden.
  • Add all the spices – salt, turmeric powder, red chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, fennel powder, and amchur. Mix well and turn off the heat.
  • Now the stuffing is ready. Let it cool so that it is easy to touch and you can stuff it in the karela.

Pro-tip: Many peple including my dad enjoy this stuffing as a veggie side dish. In punjabi, it is called as “karele ki bhor”.

Make Stuffed Bitter Gourd

  • Using a spoon and your fingers, stuff each karela with the filling. Tie the karelas with a string. This is helpful, so the filling does not fall out when frying in a pan.

If you plan to air fry, then it is okay to skip using a string.

stuffed karela in a white plate

Stovetop Method

  • Heat a large, heavy bottom pan on medium heat. Add oil to it, and let it heat. If using mustard oil, heat the oil till it smokes.
  • Place the stuffed karela in the pan in a single layer. Let them cook for 2-3 minutes, then turn and cook till they brown on all sides. You can cover it with a lid for faster cooking.

Air Fryer Method 

  • Place the stuffed karela in the air fryer basket. Spray or brush with a bit of oil. Air fryer at 360°F / 180°C for about 15 minutes. Turn in between at about 9 minutes.
  • Once cooked, remove the karela on a plate lined with a paper towel. Remove the thread. Serve as a side dish with roti and dal for a delicious healthy meal.
Bharwa Karela with onions and lime on the side

Pro-Tips

  • You can double the recipe, as these stuffed karela stay good for uptown 5 days.
  • If you want to make bharwa karela quickly and are in a hurry, boil the karela for a few minutes in water with salt and a little sugar. Then squeeze out the excess water, stuff, and shallow fry until done.
  • For stuffing karelas, always use a small, dark green bitter gourd with thin skin.
  • Make sure the filling is thick, and if you are shallow frying, using a thread to close each karela is very helpful.

Variations

Stuffing with dry spices: If the bitter gourd you have got is tender, which means you dont need to remove the seeds. Then you can skip all the steps of making the stuffing, and just mix dry spices to make a simple stuffing for the karela.

Onion Stuffing: This will be similar to the recipe shared here, just skip the scrapings from the karela.

Peanut & Coconut Stuffing: Ground 1 cup of peanuts along with 1 tablespoon of desiccated coconut and 5 cloves of garlic. Then saute it in oil with curry leaves spices such as turmeric, red chili powder, cumin and coriander powder. And use this to stuff the karela.

Raw Mango Stuffing: This is similar to the onion stuffing. Add 1/4 cup of grated raw mango once the onions are cooked. You can skip amchur powder in this variation, as the raw mango adds tanginess to the stuffing.

How to Serve?

Serve Bharwa Karela with spinach dal and roti for a simple everyday meal.

You can also enjoy Stuffed Karela with dal and rice.

How to Store?

  • You can stuffed karela in the refrigerator for up to a week.
  • Bharwa Karela stay good for up to 2-3 days, even at room temperature. Hence they are great to take along when traveling.

Common Questions

How To Reduce Bitterness from Karela?

Salt all of the karela well, both inside and out, and set aside for at least 30 minutes. Then wash well with fresh water 2-3 times. This helps to reduce bitterness.

Is bitter gourd helpful for weight loss?

Yes, this green vegetable is very low in calories and an excellent choice for people who want to lose weight.

More Healthy North Indian Recipes

5 from 9 votes

Bharwa Karela

A delicious stuffed bitter gourd recipe popular in North India. Bitter melon is stuffed with caramelized sweet onions and aromatic spices to make this fantastic vegan and gluten-free side dish.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients 

  • 500 grams Bitter melon (Karela), about 12-14
  • 2 teaspoon Salt , to rub and remove bitterness, divided
  • 4 tablespoon Mustard oil, or other vegetable oil, for frying
  • Cilantro , to garnish

For Stuffing

Instructions 

Preparing karela

  • Wash karela and then using a knife or peeler, scrape the outer skin. Save the skin, as we will use it for the stuffing.
  • Make a slit in the karela lengthwise. Do not split in half. Now remove any large hard seeds using a spoon (you can use your fingers, but it can be harder).
  • Apply salt thoroughly on the inside and outside of all the karela and keep aside for at least 30 minutes. This helps to reduce the bitterness.
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to the scrapings, mix well and kept aside. Let them rest for 30 minutes. (Note: using the scrapings is optional, but I like to use them in the stuffing)
  • Now wash karela with fresh water two to three times and squeeze them thoroughly to remove the salt and bitterness.
  • Wash the scrapings with fresh water two times and squeeze any excess liquid.

Make the stuffing:

  • Heat a pan on medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to it, and let it heat. If using mustard oil, heat the oil till it smokes.
  • Now add asafoetida and scrapings (also called bhor) to the pan. Cook for about 7-8 minutes on medium heat until the color changes to dark green.
  • Add the onions, ginger and garlic to the pan. Give it a good stir. Cook covered for about 3 minutes to soften the onions. Then cook uncovered for 2-3 minutes till the onions are lightly golden.
  • Add all the spices – salt, turmeric powder, red chili powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, fennel powder and amchur. Mix well and cook for a minute. Then turn off heat.
  • Now the stuffing is ready. Let it cool a bit, so you can stuff it in the karelas.

Stuff the Karela

  • Using a spoon and your fingers, stuff each karela with the filling. Tie the karelas with a string. This is helpful so the filling does not fall out. If you plan to air fry, then it is okay to skip using a string.

Shallow Fry Method

  • Heat a large heavy bottom pan on medium heat. Add oil to it, and let it heat. If using mustard oil, heat the oil till it smokes.
  • Place the stuffed karela in the pan in a single layer. Let them cook for 2-3 minutes, then turn and cook till they brown on all sides. You can cover with a lid for faster cooking.
  • Once cooked, remove karela on a plate lined with paper towel. Remove the thread. Serve them as a side dish with roti and dal for a wonderful meal.

Air Fryer Method

  • Place the stuffed karela in the air fryer basket. Spray or brush with a little oil. Air fryer at 360°F / 180°C for about 15 minutes. Turn in between at about 9 minutes.

Video

Notes

  • If you want to make bharwa karela quickly and are in a hurry, boil the karela for a few minutes in water with salt and a little sugar. Then squeeze out the excess water, stuff, and shallow fry until done.
  • For stuffing karelas, always use a small, dark green bitter gourd with thin skin.
  • Make sure the filling is thick, and if you are shallow frying, using a thread to seal each karela is very helpful.

    Nutrition

    Calories: 241kcalCarbohydrates: 19gProtein: 3gFat: 18gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 4gMonounsaturated Fat: 10gSodium: 1475mgPotassium: 589mgFiber: 6gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 750IUVitamin C: 115mgCalcium: 77mgIron: 2mg

    Additional Info

    Course: Main Course
    Cuisine: Indian
    Diet: Gluten-free, Vegan
    Tried this recipe?Mention @pipingpotcurry or tag #pipingpotcurry!

    About Meeta

    I strongly believe that each one of us has a chef inside us, we just need to explore the ingredients and create great food. My passion is to share easy, healthy, and wholesome recipes made using Instant Pot & Air Fryer, that are well tested, so you can cook with confidence.

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    5 from 9 votes (2 ratings without comment)

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    14 Comments

    1. Hi Mita, I searched a lot for bharwa karela and finally settled for your recipe. I am happy to say it turned out too good. Just loved eating it with chapathi. I didn’t even soak it in salt & turmeric water as I didn’t want to remove the bitterness, also wanted to retain all the goodness of the bitter gourd & it wasn’t bitter at all. Thankyou very much for the detailed recipe. I appreciate all the hard work you put in t he website!

      1. Hi Tejaswini – I’m delighted to hear that you tried the Bharwa Karela recipe and that it turned out so well for you!

    2. Just loved it and getting praise from my husband who doesn’t like karelas except fried chips did tell me a lot more.. it’s going to be a regular for sure. Thank you!

      1. Hi Lekha – You’re welcome! That’s fantastic to hear! Enjoy cooking and happy eating! 😊

    3. It was a great Bharwa Karelia recipe. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Never used bitter melon scrapings in the stuffing. Turned out great with this.

    4. This recipe turned out amazing Mita! I had been searching for a bharwa karela recipe for sometime and this is now my go to. Thank you.

      1. Hi – Thank you for trying out the recipe and I’m thrilled to hear that it turned out amazing for you!

    5. Meeta,
      I like the this Kerala recipe. I have a chopped (slices) Kerala. Instead of stuffing the Karela can I use the prepared stuffing sprinkle or mix with karela slices?