The bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is a type of cucurbit (pumpkin and melon family) widely grown in tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Also known in English as bitter gourd, bitter squash, or balsam-pear, it grows as a vine and has several varieties which differ in shape, skin texture and bitterness of the fruit.
Bitter melon originated in India but is now widely used in East Asian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian cuisine. Chinese varieties generally have a smoother, lighter coloured skin than Indian varieties. The bitter melon is usually eaten while still green in colour. As the fruit ripens, it becomes orange/yellow in colour and splits open to reveal large bright red seeds inside.
Bitter melon also has names in other languages which have entered English as loanwords, such as goya from Okinawan, pākal ( பாகல் ) from Tamil and karela from Sanskrit. In Jamaica the plant is commonly known as cerasee, while in Brazil it is called melão de são caetano (Saint Caetano’s Melon). In Sri Lanka the bitter melon is known as karavila ( කරවිල ) in Sinhala, and is an ingredient in many different curry dishes including Karawila Curry and Karawila Sambol. In Thailand, the Chinese variety of green bitter melon is known as mara ( มะระ ).
As a food, the bitter melon is prepared and eaten in many different ways, including being juiced as a drink. It is commonly used in curries and stir fries and is often fried or stuffed with various fillings. The bitter melon has many traditional medicinal applications, and in particular is widely used as a treatment for blood sugar irregularities and diabetes.
This Sri Lankan recipe for Karawila Curry was adapted from a recipe on www.infolanka.com:
Two bitter melons (de-seeded and sliced thinly)
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
Salt to taste
Half cup coconut milk
Juice of half a lime or lemon
Soak the clean and sliced melon in salt and turmeric for a few minutes.
Squeeze out the water after a while and set the melon aside.
Fry the onion and mustard seeds until they start splattering.
Add the cumin, turmeric and chilli powder, and stir in thoroughly.
Add the bitter melon and stir in.
Add the tomato, salt, about 1/4 cup water and the coconut milk.
Continue cooking on medium heat, stirring occasionally.
When cooked, add lime/lemon juice to taste. The lime/lemon minimizes the bitterness of the gourd.