Recipe: Punjabi Dry Karela (Bitter Melon) Subzi

A subzi is an Indian vegetable dish. Punjabi dry subzis are really easy to make. But some of them take too long to make, like the aloo beans subzi I already posted. That was REALLY good but it takes forever to cook the potato. I was even surprised that the potatoes actually cooked! And the dry aloo gobi takes even longer! But this karela subzi is super fast and easy to make!

Karela is called bitter melon in English and it has a bitter taste. Anyways I dislike the bitter taste so I cannot eat very much of it whenever I make it… But it is a very, very healthy vegetable, especially when it is hot, because it is classified as a cooling vegetable in Chinese medicine. It is also good to purify the blood and is especially good for people with diabetes. It is high in vitamins and other healthy chemicals, and can treat constipation. In China (also Japan) bitter melon is very popular in the summer because of cooling effects. I’m not sure about its qualities in Indian medicine though. Anyways, people actually naturally dislike bitter melon taste! Humans naturally dislike bitter foods because many poisons are bitter, so we evolved this way. Sadly, many non-poisonous things are also bitter. But we can get used to them. My mom used to dislike it but now she loves bitter melon.

This time, my mom tasted my karela subzi and said it was even more delicious than Chinese bitter melon dishes! She said that the flavor of the spices went really well with the bitter melon and mellowed the bitter flavor too. I agreed! Anyways you should totally try this dish if you can stand the flavor of bitter melon. I warn you if you haven’t tried the vegetable before, you will probably hate it! Some people actually like it naturally though, but that is uncommon. 

This recipe is adapted from Veg Recipes of India again. As you can see I LOVE the website and you should check it out for tasty Indian food 🙂


5-6 small to medium Indian bitter melon, but I used 2 small to medium Chinese bitter melons. Indian ones are actually more bitter. Cut the bitter melons in half and use a spoon to remove all the seeds with most of the white part. Actually in India they don’t remove the white part! But I always do because you do in Chinese and Japanese recipes. If using Indian one, you can also peel the bitter melons if you wish (it is optional). Don’t peel the Chinese bitter melon because it barely has a “peel” and it won’t do anything to peel except waste. Then slice the melons thinly.

2-3 medium size onion in India, or 1 American sized onion, thinly sliced

1/2 tbsp ginger julienne or 1 tsp minced ginger, plus 1/2 tbsp thinly sliced garlic or 1 tsp minced garlic. (both ginger and garlic are optional)

2 tbsp oil

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/4 heaping tsp red chili powder (I used Kashmiri for non-spicy)

salt (I used 1/4 tsp for lower sodium)

1/4 heaping tsp garam masala

1/4 to 1/2 tsp amchur powder (or 1 to 2 tsp lemon juice) to taste

chopped cilantro leaves (optional)


1. Heat a kadai, pan, or wok. I use Staub Perfect Pan (I love it!!).

2. Add oil. Fry ginger and garlic if using for 10-15 seconds.

3. Add onions and saute 2-3 minutes, they become translucent.

4. Add bitter melon and stir well. Then saute 2-3 minutes. You can saute 4-5 minutes if using Indian bitter melon. 

5. Now add the salt, turmeric, red chili powder. Saute until it is how tender you like it over medium heat. Stir every few seconds so it doesn’t stick to the pan. 4-5 minutes should be enough for me, but most Indian people prefer longer, about 7-8 minutes.

6. Add garam masala, amchur, and cilantro. If using lemon juice, don’t add yet. Saute 1 minute.

7. If using lemon juice, add now. Stir quickly, taste for salt, chili, and amchur/lemon, adjust to taste.

8. Take out to a plate and serve!

You can serve with phulkas (whole wheat rotis) or parathas or cooked basmati or other rice. Enjoy also with a bowl of plain or sweetened yogurt. I served with super easy lassi. The recipe are below. I prefer the sweet version. The karela is also good served with dal and rice (see my dal bhat recipe) or Punjabi kadhi (recipe coming later!) and rice. Enjoy!

Super easy sweet lassi: 1 cup cold plain yogurt, mix with honey or sugar to taste (I used about 1/2 tbsp honey) and then add one or two ice cubes and dilute with cold milk or water to desired consistency (about 1/4 cup should be good). You can also add a pinch of cardamom powder, and/or a tiny amount of rose water (be careful! VERY powerful) if you like, but I prefer without.

Super easy salty lassi: 1 cup plain yogurt, mix with 1/4 tsp roasted cumin powder (dry roast cumin and crush in mortar) or to taste and 1/8 to 1/4 tsp black salt (kala namak) or to taste (or regular salt, 1 pinch or to taste), and 1-2 ice cubes. Dilute with cold milk or water to desired consistency (about 1/4 cup should be good). Garnish with a little chopped mint leaves if desired. 

Super easy chaas: Make salted lassi with 2/3 cup water instead of 1/4 cup.


12 thoughts on “Recipe: Punjabi Dry Karela (Bitter Melon) Subzi

  1. Oh my. Bitter Melon is an aquired taste.
    As is Lassi with added salt.
    IMHO, your taste in food has certainly expanded. That’s a good thing!!

  2. Thank you, hehe 🙂
    I barely ate any of the subzi though and made the sweet lassi instead of the salty one.
    But the spices do make it less bitter. And the lassi removes bitterness from the mouth. Really! The Indian way of preparing it makes karela more standable, lol

    1. I want to make veg pulao (there is already one recipe on my site, but there are millions of variations) once I buy some basmati rice (I ran out making the biryani). Pulao is much easier than biryani and as delicious.
      In Chinese cuisine, I’m not really sure because I make anything randomly depending on what I have. I have eggplant and potato today, not sure if I should make fish-fragrant eggplant and stir-fried potato slivers, or other dish, or even aloo baingan subzi or something.
      I’m traveling to Turkey in April 😀
      I’m too busy to study languages, I have to choose cooking deRicious food or learning Japanese, which is a priority over Turkish because I’m more interested in Japanese.
      If I like Turkish food I might try to make some at home… Maybe try the Turkish pulao (the Indian and Persian versions seem a little more delicious in my opinion though).
      Random thoughts 🙂

      1. Sounds like you have some food
        recipe options.
        You’ll certainly be busy for a while and perhaps have more or
        further your culinary options after your trip. Have a happy and safe trip.

    1. Definitely the High Heel Gourmet 🙂
      She teaches how to make curry pastes from scratch and how to make curry from it. Also, she is allergic to chilies so she makes non-spicy Thai recipes which is very helpful for me because traditional Thai food is way too spicy! She also has recipes for many kinds of curries already. Her recipes are the most authentic on the web for Thai curries. Most Thai recipes in English are very Americanized, but hers are very good.

    2. I also have a suggestion to NOT visit thaifood about com because their recipes are extremely not authentic and very Americanized even though they say they are authentic. Just a tip 🙂

    1. Also, happy Spring Equinox 🙂
      Sadly Americans could not see the solar eclipse today 😦 but oh well, next time…
      The pictures of the eclipse are amazing. It makes me think of the special episode on Mushishi.

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