Karela, also called bitter melon, is a popular vegetable used in many Asian countries. Here is a delicious North Indian Karela recipe, where bitter melon is cooked with onions and spices, along with some jaggery to get a sweet, spicy and tangy stir fry!

Karela stir fry with onions in a white bowl with roti and cilantro on the side

This karela sabzi or bitter gourd curry is healthy and super easy to make, so I make it a point to include it in our meals quite frequently. This is a sweet, spicy and tangy karela recipe.

Karela was one of the veggie we all hated as kids growing up. Its bitter taste was one of the major reason, we ran away from this vegetable, but now we enjoy after growing up. Stuffed karela is another great way to enjoy it.

While making this karela fry, my mom traditionally stirs the karela separately and then sauté the onions and add back the karela. It makes the karela a bit more crispy. But as you know, I love making my recipes easier for you all, so I just cook them together.

Most of you might have never tried bitter melon, so I am sharing detailed steps to buy the right bitter melon. You will also learn to clean, reduce its bitterness, and cook the bitter melon. I would love to hear from you if you have questions for me when trying this pyaaz wale karela (bitter melon with onions) recipe.

What is Bitter Melon?

Bitter melon is also known as Pavakkai, bitter squash, bitter gourd, and karela. They are actually a fruit that is shaped like cucumber and has seeds inside. It has a bitter taste, hence the name.

Karela, also called bitter melon on a wooden cutting board

Bitter Melon Benefits

There is a saying in India, that bitter taste is the best medicine. Likewise, bitter melon is a great immune booster and helps in treating diabetes. It also functions as a blood cleanser and helps fight body infections.

Buying Karela

Fresh and young bitter melon are the best choice when making this dish. The skin will be bright green in color with tender flesh and small white or brownish-orange seeds. I always try to find smaller size and thin, slender bitter melon. I always try to find smaller size and thin, slender bitter melon.

The young karela will have pebbly skin and ridges. Don’t go for light green or slightly yellowish bitter melons as they will have dried up flesh and red seeds inside. It means the fruit has started to ripen and the bitterness will be so much more.

How to cook Karela?

Before getting ready to cook the karela, you need to prep it first

Cleaning & Cutting Karela

  • Washing the bitter gourd well under running water. Use a kitchen towel to dry the karela.
  • Then cut off the edges and make a clean slice in the middle, as shown in the picture below. But don’t slice it all way through.
  • Once you have cut and opened the karela, for young ripe karela you will see small tender, white seeds. You do’t have to remove these seeds. If the karela is over-ripe, you will see the white flesh and slightly orange-reddish seeds as shown in the picture.
  • Use a sharp-edge spoon to scoop out the seeds.
removing red seeds from karela. bitter melon
  • Then slice the karela into small rings as shown below.
Karela slit and cut into rounds

Reducing bitterness of Karela

Even though Karela, is well known for its bitterness, there is a way to reduce it to an extent. And here is how you do it:

  • Put all the chopped karela rings in a large bowl and sprinkle some salt over them
  • Mix them well till the salt coats all the chopped pieces well
  • Now set aside and let them rest for some time, and you will also notice bitter melon oozing water
  • Take some chopped karela in your palm and gently squeeze.
  • Some of the bitterness of the karela comes out along with the water. You can see the photo below of how much water was released.
  • Place the squeezed karela rings in a separate bowl and repeat the process until you have squeezed them all.
step by step to reduce bitterness of karela by applying salt and removing the liquid

Cooking Karela

Now that your karela is ready, it is time to get started on the stir fry. I will be sharing the Punjabi North Indian way to make Karela.

As this is Punjabi karela stir fry, I typically use mustard oil as it is a staple oil used by Punjabi’s when making veggie stir frys such as Karela, Bhindi, Aloo Methi.

Also when using mustard oil, make sure you heat it well and then reduce to medium flame before adding other ingredients. This will help in removing the bitter taste and distinctive smell of the mustard.

This recipe also uses a lot of onions. Sice the onions thinly and have them ready before you start cooking.

  • Heat mustard oil in a large heavy bottom pan or wok on medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, reduce the heat a little bit and add some cumin seeds along with asafoetida. Let them sizzle for a few seconds
  • Then add the sliced onions and sauté them for a few mins. We don’t want to brown the onions here, just cook them to make translucent.
  • Then add the spices – turmeric, coriander, cumin, and red chili.
  • If you have not used salt to remove the bitterness of the karela, you need to add it along with the other spices and sauté well.
  • Then add the chopped karela and mix well.
step by step to cook bitter melon (karela) in a pan with onions and spices
  • Then cover the pan and cook for a few minutes by reducing the heat to low. You need to check the karela for softness while stirring at regular intervals.
  • When the karela is tender and it is almost cooked, then add some gram flour and mix well. This spot is optional gram flour in this recipe.
  • I usually also add some jaggery to this stir fry and mix well till it melts. It is typically the Gujarati way of preparing this stir fry, but I like that sweet with a bitter combo. If you don’t want to add jaggery, you can completely skip the step.
  • Finally, add dry mango or amchur powder and mix well. If you don’t have amchur, you can also add tamarind juice or lime juice to this karela sabzi.
  • Then switch off the stove and transfer the stir fry from the pan to a serving bowl.
  • Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and enjoy!
karela onion stir fry in a white bowl

Serve the karela stir fry with roti and dal or raita. This also goes really well with kadhi chawal.

Tips to make the best karela sabzi:

  • While chopping the bitter melon, chop them in medium size slices because if it is too thick, it will not cook properly and if it is too thin, the stir-fry will become mushy.
  • If using a pressure cooker, make sure that it is cooked in low heat. Otherwise, it will get burnt as water is not added to this dish.
  • You can also add some peeled and chopped potatoes cubes in this recipe. Adjust the spices as needed.
  • Gram flour and Jaggery are both optional in this recipe. But they both addd their own wonderful flavor. So try and see what you prefer to add.
Karela subji served with chapati and dal

Enjoy bitter melon with roti and raita. Karela has become a favorite in our house, and we make it often.

If you like this bitter gourd stir fry recipe, you can also try these simple stir-fry recipes:

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4.84 from 6 votes

Karela (Bitter Melon Stir Fry)

Karela, also called bitter melon, is a popular vegetable used in many Asian countries. Here is a delicious North Indian Karela recipe, where bitter melon is cooked with onions and spices, along with some jaggery to get a sweet, spicy and tangy stir fry!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 3

Ingredients 

Instructions 

Prepping Karela

  • Wash the bitter melon and remove any hard/red seeds. If the karela is small and has tender seeds, it is not necessary to remove them. Then slice them into thin rounds.
    Karela slit and cut into rounds
  • (Optional) Sprinkle salt over the chopped bitter melon, mix well and leave for about 30 minutes. Then Squeeze the bitter melon gently between your palms to remove the bitter juice.
    step by step to reduce bitterness of karela by applying salt and removing the liquid

Cooking Karela

  • Heat oil in a large heavy bottom saucepan on medium-high heat. Then reduce heat a little and add cumin seeds and asafoetida. Let them sizzle for a few seconds.
  • Add onions and cook them for 2-3 minutes. We don't want to brown the onions here, just cook them to make translucent.
  • Add all the spices – turmeric powder, coriander powder, cumin powder and red chili powder. Add salt if you did not add it to remove bitterness of karela.
    cooked onions and spices in a pan
  • Add the chopped bitter melon and mix it well.
    sliced bitter melon in a pan with onions and spices
  • Cover the pan and cook for about 10-15 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Let the karela cook till done while stirring at regular intervals.
  • Add the gram flour and mix well. Then add jaggery and mix well till the jaggery melts.
  • Add the dry mango powder and mix well. Remove from heat.
    Cooked karela subji
  • Garnish with cilantro and serve!
    Karela / bitter melon stir fry in a white bowl

Notes

  • While chopping the bitter melon, chop them in medium size slices because if it is too thick, it will not cook properly and if it is too thin, the stir-fry will become mushy.
  • If using a pressure cooker, make sure that it is cooked in low heat. Otherwise, it will get burnt as water is not added to this dish.
  • You can also add some peeled and chopped potatoes cubes in this recipe. Adjust the spices as needed.
  • Gram flour and Jaggery are both optional in this recipe. But they both addd their own wonderful flavor. So try and see what you prefer to add.

Nutrition

Calories: 186kcalCarbohydrates: 22gProtein: 3gFat: 10gSaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 795mgPotassium: 531mgFiber: 5gSugar: 10gVitamin A: 651IUVitamin C: 103mgCalcium: 52mgIron: 2mg

Additional Info

Course: Main Course, Side Dish
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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