Karela Achar Recipe (+Giveaway)

Karela Achar Recipe (+Giveaway) Recipe

Bitter melon (also known as bitter cucumber, bitter gourd or karela) is an acquired taste. That's a polite way of saying a lot of people dislike it. As the name implies, it is bitter, but when cooked properly, it can make a delicious dish. I learned this particular recipe from my husband Lulu's auntie. Sherin Auntie made achar using Indian bittermelons. What is achar you ask? Achar is to Indian cuisine what nuoc mam is to Vietnamese food. It's a popular, oil-packed Indian pickled condiment. We usually eat it with kichdi (Indian lentil rice) and raita (Indian yogurt condiment).

First, Sherin Auntie seeded the karela and cut them into small shreds. She decided to par-boil them so they'd be tender but this step is optional. She then fried them with Indian spices until it formed a chunky, thick paste and completed the process by sealing the mixture in a jar. The last bit of this recipe is time; you have to let the achar stand for a few days so the ingredients infuse and develop into a flavorful condiment. But I promise you it's so addictive, you'll keep asking for more rice so you can eat more achar.

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Yields: 1 pint

10 Indian bitter melons
1 cup water
1-¼ cups canola oil (or any neutral oil)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 tablespoons fenugreek seeds
3 tablespoons fennel seeds
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste (click on the link for the recipe)
2 dried red chiles
juice of half a lemon
2 jalapeño peppers
4 teaspoons red chili powder
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
6 fresh curry leaves, torn into thirds
1 tablespoon black pepper, coarsely cracked
2 teaspoons dried mango powder
1-½ teaspoons salt


Prepping the jalapeño: Stem, seed and finely chop the jalapeño peppers.

Note: remember not to rub your eyes after touching jalapeño pepper seeds.

Prepping the bitter melons:

Smooth the outer layer using a vegetable peeler or the spikes from the vegetables will end up burnt in the hot oil.

Cut the bitter melons in half. Using a melon ball scoop, remove and discard the spongy center and the seeds. Soak the bitter melons in lemon water for 5-10 minutes.

Remove and discard the liquid from the bitter melons. Place them whole in a small pot. Fill it with cold water until the bitter melons are barely covered. It's important to start with cold water so they cook evenly. Bring to a boil, add 1 teaspoon of salt and reduce the heat to medium-high (if you cook the melons at a full boil, they might fall apart). As soon as the water reaches a boil, cook for about 5 minutes. Drain the bitter melons thoroughly and let them cool a little (do not rinse and let the liquid evaporate). Cut them into shreds and pat them dry.

Assembly time: 

In a deep saucepan, heat ½ cup oil and add the ginger garlic paste, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, turmeric powder, mustard seeds and 2 teaspoons red chili powder. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and grind into a thick paste.

In the same saucepan, add another ½ cup oil. Return the paste into the pan. Add the bitter melon shreds, curry leaves, dried red chiles and fry for about 2 minutes over hight heat. Season with salt.

Make sure yo use sterlized jars. Little reminder on how to sterelize jars: Fill a deep saucepan with water and bring to just under a boil. Place 2 ½-pint jars, lids, heat-proof funnel and tongs in the pot and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the water.

Place the achar in the jars.

In a small saucepan, heat the remaining oil. Add the remaining red chili powder. Remove from the heat and immediately transfer to the jars.

Carefully place the lid on the jar, using a magnet. Tighten the collar around the jar.

For optimal flavor, allow 10 days before opening the jar.



You can find karela and the rest of the ingredient listed above in most Indian stores.

Karela Recipe with Picture

Little reminder on how to make ginger garlic paste: Clean one (2-inch) chunk of fresh ginger, carefully removing any dirt. Peel the ginger root with a paring knife or the edge of a spoon, then finely chop it. Place the chopped ginger and 5 cloves of garlic in a blender and add about 2 tablespoons (or more) of water for a smooth flow. Transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator. You can keep this paste for at least a week in the refrigerator.

Most Indian dishes are completed with a layer of red oil.

Check out my chutney recipes.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on December 14, 2011.


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