‘Karela aur woh bhi neem charha’ is usually used in reference to people who have a not very sweet disposition and are a little difficult to deal with. Thus, they get compared to the bitter karela and neem. Bitter these may well be, but they are also very beneficial to us.
Karela (bitter gourd) is a commonly used vegetable in the subcontinent and is cooked in more than one way — either fry grated karela till it is crisp, or cook with gram pulse and minced meat or prepare a delicious stuffed karela. For the latter dish, stuff the peeled and deseeded karela with traditional condiments and onions, tie it with thread so that the filling does not spill out, and then fry in edible oil. This is the most common way to prepare karela, and can be refrigerated for more than a week without a change in its taste.
Many people are intimidated by its bitter taste, but that’s no reason not to eat it. You can minimise the bitterness by either of these two ways: boil one kg of peeled karela with 125gm tamarind (Imli) for two to three hours; discard the tamarind and water and use the karela. The other method is salt application: rub lots of salt on the peeled and sliced karela (if you want to make stuffed karela do not slice it and rub salt on the whole peeled karela) and keep aside for an hour or so. Salt draws the bitter juices from the karela. Squeeze out the bitter juices from the Karela and wash it under running water and squeeze again. An added tip is to cook it without a lid.
It’s an acquired taste, but once you’re bitten by the bitter gourd don’t be surprised if you get addicted to this eye-catching green vegetable
Despite its bitterness, it provides many nutrients and vitamins like C, A, B, B-1, B-2 and B-3 as well as being a rich source of calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and phosphorus. It has high dietary fibre and is free from cholesterol and sugar.
If you are trying to lose weight bitter gourd is the thing for you. It contains antioxidants which help flush your system, thus improving your metabolism and in turn help you lose weight. Also its high water content fills you up and prevents over eating, not to mention that like most vegetables it is low in calories.
Not only does it help in weight control, bitter gourd helps to keep your skin glowing and free from blemishes, acne and deep skin infections such as eczema and psoriasis. Because of its Vitamin C content, which is a powerful antioxidant, it helps prevent wrinkles by slowing down the ageing process. It also protects the skin from damage by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Bitter gourd is a great home remedy for your hair as well. A tablespoon of gooseberry juice mixed with a cup of bitter gourd juice gently massaged in your scalp works wonders.
It is said that if you are a diabetic, eating karela will help your condition by lowering blood glucose levels. In fact, Karela has been used in the subcontinent for treating diabetes for some time now. The health action group, Diabetes UK, states that when consumed in significant quantities, it can in fact lower blood glucose levels. However, the group warns that you must tell your doctor that you are using karela so it can be considered part of your treatment. In some countries Karela powder is available in capsule form but the health implications of taking karela capsules are unknown as there has been no research into their long-term effects. Therefore, eating karela is fine but the capsules are not recommended until more evidence is available.
For our part, let’s include karela in our diet so as not to miss its nutritive benefits. No doubt karela is bitter, but there are so many things in life that are equally bitter but we accept them with a smile. Regardless of whether it is actually beneficial for cancer or diabetes patients, it also offsets many other ailments that are detrimental to our health.
Yet one has to be careful as, like most things, excessive consumption of karela or its juice by a diabetic patient can have some serious consequences as it may cause mild abdominal pain or diarrhoea, and lower the sugar level to dangerous levels if the dose of their drugs is not adjusted accordingly. Pregnant women are also advised against taking too much bitter gourd or its juice as it may lead to pre-term labour.
Choose unripe bitter gourds that are firm, avoiding those that have turned orange or have soft spots. Ripe bitter gourds can be excessively bitter.
Karela can be kept for three to four days in the vegetable bin in the refrigerator. Keeping bitter gourd at room temperature or with other fruits and vegetables will hasten its ripening and becomes more bitter, due to the emission of ethylene gas.
Clean your bitter gourd under cold running water and brush with a soft vegetable brush.
The smaller variety is even more bitter than the bigger one. To help make bitter gourd juice become more palatable, take it with honey, or add carrot or apple juice.