29 May, 2009

Haagalakai/Bitter Gourd Palya: Bitter is Better...


Haagalakai/Bitter Gourd Palya

… Said smiling grandmother to her little grand daughter who, as usual, was perched on kitchen counter as she watched her Ajji chop bitter gourds for that day’s meal. ‘Bitter’ isn’t something that little girls liked and her feelings were painted clearly on her face when she twitched her nose in distaste and deep frown was formed between her dark brows. “Think of it, it isn’t for bitter you would never have appreciated the sweetness of one’s life”, said grandmother with knowing look on her serene face.
A wise word from a wise person who had experienced many highs and lows in her seventy five years of life and yet eager to embrace all life had to offer to her! That was my Ajji, an anchor in my life who showed me to slow down, look around, think and learn before diving into next adventure that life offered! Thanks to her guiding light, I have grown to face every bitter or sweet thing that life has to offer and appreciate the lessons they teach and not to shy away from them.

Astounding isn’t it? Even bitter gourd can take me down the memory lane! Is it just me or I am fortunate to have some company here? It’s simply amazing to see how food is interwoven in our paste, present and even future! And you needn’t be rocket scientist to guess we have bitter gourd recipe in today’s menu.


Haagalakai/Bitter Gourd Palya

I learnt this recipe of Bitter Gourd or Hagalalakai Palya from my mom-in-law during our last trip to India. Since soon after our wedding I moved to UK, I hardly got any time to spend with my in-laws. So it is during our month long trip to India every year I try to learn as many recipes as possible in brief period of time as my dear MIL cooks one delicious dish after another. Every year I look forward to a month long of relishing all delicacies cooked by my Amma and Atte. Well, doesn’t it feel great to be pampered and spoiled by your loved ones? And what better than food, which IMHO, is the best way to shower someone with all that love and affection!

Coming back to recipe part, I was surprised to see how simple this bitter gourd recipe was and when my MIL mentioned she cooked it in microwave, I couldn’t wait any longer to learn it and try it. The main attraction of this recipe is its simplicity and, of course, its taste. Yes, you heard it right. You many be surprised at how good bitter gourd can taste when cooked right with right ingredients. The roasted spices and coconut is nothing short of cherry on top of already amazing cake. I don’t have to stress the importance of bitter Rasa/taste in Ayurveda and the medicinal benefits of bitter gourd is better than any sinful cakes/chocolates for your well being. Since the ingredients used as Satvik in nature, they are not only good for your body but excellent for your taste buds. While jaggary adds sweetness, tamarind pulp gives it a sour note. Selected aromatic roasted spices with dry red chillies gives the curry heady aroma and hint of spicy taste and coconut simply takes this curry to next level of flavour sensation! And the best thing is yet to come. Since the spices are roasted along with coconut and the bitter gourd is cooked with tamarind and jaggary, this curry can be refrigerated for over a week without any fear of it getting spoiled. Remember to consume this curry in moderation as bitter gourd taken in overdose may result in heartburns.

Bitter Gourd for Haagalakai/Bitter Gourd Palya

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Haagalakai/Bitter Gourd Palya (Bitter Gourd Fry with Tamarind, Jaggary and Coconut)
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 25-30 mins
Serves: 4-6
Recipe Source: MIL
Recipe Level: Basic/Beginner to Medium
Spice Level: Medium
Serving Suggestion: With steam cooked Rice

2 medium Bitter Gourds, sliced length wise, seeds removed and cut into 1 cm cubes
1 medium lime sized Tamarind Pulp, soaked in ½ cup of hot water and juice extracted
2-3 tbsp Jaggary/Palm Sugar
½ tsp Turmeric Powder
Salt to taste

For Roasted Spices & Coconut Paste:
1-1½ tbsp White Sesame Seeds
½ tbsp Urad Dal/Split black Lentils
1 tbsp Coriander Seeds
1 tsp Jeera/Cumin Seeds
2-4 Dry Red Chillies, halved (Adjust acc to taste)
½ cup fresh/frozen grated Coconut

For Tadka/Tempering:
1 tsp Mustard Seeds
1 Dried Red Chilli, broken into 1 inch pieces
A big pinch of Hing/Asafoetida
Few Curry Leaves
½ tbsp Oil

Roasted Spices & Coconut for Haagalakai/Bitter Gourd Palya

Preparing Bitter Gourd:
Take chopped bitter gourd pieces in a colander and mix well with about 1 tsp of salt. Place a bowl of water (that fits well in colander) on top of colander containing bitter gourds. Keep this aside for at least 30 mins near sink. This way some of bitter juices from bitter gourd will be released.

For Roasted Spices & Coconut Paste:
Heat a pan and add urad dal, white sesame seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and dry red chillies on medium to low flame till nice aroma of roasted spices comes and dal turns golden red in colour, about 3 mins. Transfer these roasted spices to clean and dry plate.
In a same pan dry roast fresh or thawed frozen coconut till it turns light golden, about 1-2 mins, on medium-low flame. Transfer these contents to roasted spices and let them cool slightly.
Next transfer all these roasted spices and coconut into a food processor and grind them to smooth paste without adding any water. Keep it aside till needed.


Roasted Spices & Coconut Powder for Haagalakai/Bitter Gourd Palya

Cooking Bitter Gourd in Microwave:
Take bitter gourd pieces along with jaggary, tamarind extract and salt to taste in a microwave safe bowl with lid. Add about ¼-½ cup of water and close the lid. Cook this in microwave for 10 mins.
Open the lid and mix all the ingredients and cover and cook for another 5-10 minutes till the bitter gourd is almost cooked.
Now add ground roasted spice and coconut paste and mix well. Cook uncovered for another 7-10 minutes till all water evaporated and the palya looks dry.

For Tadka/Tempering:
Heat oil in a pan and add mustard seeds to it. When mustard starts to pop and splutter, add dry red chilli, hing and curry leaves. Sauté it for around 30 seconds and transfer the contents to Bitter Gourd Palya. Mix them well before serving it hot or cold along with a bowl of freshly steam cooked Rice and enjoy this bitter goodness!

Haagalakai/Bitter Gourd Palya

Since the spices are roasted along with coconut and the bitter gourd is cooked with tamarind and jaggary, this curry can be refrigerated for over a week without any fear of it getting spoiled.
Remember to consume this curry in moderation as bitter gourd taken in overdose may result in heartburns.


  1. That is what exactly my mom used to tell us kids when she made curries with bittergourd when we were home.
    I used to hate them. And she used to tell we must eat them.
    Have to say, it is not my favourite veg at all even though your grandmother and my mom are correct.

  2. Thats one very healthy and delicious looking dish sia..gorgeous clicks!!

  3. wow! one of my favs ..palya ..i like bitter gaurd ...:)) Thanks soo much for sharing this recipe with us ! nice clicks as always

  4. My mom makes the palya just like this! But unlike you, I hated this vegetable..I used to shuffle it on my plate in all directions and managed to spill it out of the plate little by little till its all on the place mat ;D

  5. I love hagalkayi, we laways make gojjus, never made palya .. maybe i should make this next time

  6. Wow!! I adore bittergourd and will definitely have to try this recipe out!

  7. Bittergourd curry looks yummy Sia. When made with right ingredients even bittergourd tastes delicious. Thanks for the recipe, will try.

  8. It looks so delicious...awesome photos! Very new to me from the regular karela recipes...thanks for sharing :)

  9. hi sia,
    lovely write up on the understanding and respecting the bitterness and sweetness in our lives...the same neatly connected to the taste buds as well :) it's really a blessing to have elders to pass on their wisdom to us ..it helps us mould ourselves for a better tomorrow/future :)right sweetie?!

    Coming to the recipe...I've had this type of hagalkai palya in functions and friends' homes...never made it this way though. The roasted spice paste tempts me to try this one sometime soon. I enjoy the dry yet kinda moist masalas. Thanks

  10. My Grandmother is my Guardian angel. She led a Saintly life and influenced me very much. I miss her!

    ..now that coconut shell is put to great use!

  11. Sia,that palya looks yummy..Hubby is a big fan of this vegetable..So 3/4th portion of the amount i prepare will go into his plate..Nice recipe for bittergourd..need to give a try soon

  12. Yummy palya..Looking great..

  13. I am seeing bitter guard everywhere now. This palya looks so sweet and tangy and I bet it would have slight bitter taste. u're 100% right on the memories tied with food. Ofcourse all the foodies here would agree to that point. Every ingredient I see I could pull out a story from my life ;)

  14. Oh wow that's an flavourful curry...Learning from granny is really a fun......

  15. I know most people will not agree with you on "bitter is better" but I'm with you about "bitter is definitely good" if it looks like this.
    I like bitter gourd, you see. :)

  16. Have never made bitter gourd with coconut. Sounds like a nice variation! Lovely snaps Sia! :-)

  17. Love this Sia..Somehow BG is my fav vegie..from childhood. This is a different preparation which I would love to try..looks gr8 too.

  18. I bought the bittergourd yesterday and I am going to try this soon. Looks great. I did not know Bitter gourd causes heartburns. Thanks for the info.

  19. Hi Sia, what a lovely post! Made me think of my grandmother who were always eager to please her grandchildren and cooked up stuff from her home grown vegetables in a jiffy whenever we went without notice and never let us leave until we were fully satiated! I really adore your pics, especially the spices one in the coconut shell with the woven mat background.We love bittergourd at home (I so agree about bitter and sweet parts of life) Love your recipe, and I will definitely be trying this soon:-)

  20. Supriya, I just had to tell you that I tried making this and it was phenomenal! I would have eaten the whole thing myself if I could. Thanks for such an awesome recipe!

  21. I also think of my grandmother the same way Sia. She was such a broad minded and confident woman. Had she be born in the 70's/80's she would have achieved something great.

    Lovely pictures as always and an interesting recipe. I have not tried this masala before.

  22. @Kalai,
    So glad to see u girl. hw have u been? and I am excited to u liked this recipe. I have bought few bitter gourds to make this palya again this weekend. isn't it addictive? :)

  23. Lovely write up sia, pictures are so good asusual and i too make this but never added sesame seeds..will add this too when i make next time.I am big fan for this vegetable.. i can even eat raw with salt when i chop them. But only this bitter is better for me not all bitterness.

  24. Bitter is better at all times. That too after looking at thoses photos there is nothing to dispute.

  25. I simply love Bitter Gourd.....but ur dish is can easily convert a person who dislikes Bitter Gourd

  26. Simply adore these bitter things...so much , that i would almost ignore a paneer or potato side dish made at home when everytime bittergourd was cooked, so that the fussy eaters at home(Read...Siblings) could have their meals...gourds with some dal and rice...and it takes nothing more than that to bring out that expression of contentment after having a meal
    This is such a gem of recipe...would love to try it soon

  27. The gravy sounds so flavorful. I didn't enjoy bittergourds when I was little but like them a lot now.

  28. Lovely pics Sia...you can make even a bitter gourd look so pretty :) Must try this, I do make a few things with bitter gourd and we really like it...picked up a bottle of hagalkai tokku in Bangalore, and its fabulous !!

  29. Reminded me of my mom's hagalkai palya :) I, however, have never tried making it...will try this time, thanks for the recipe!

  30. Beautiful recipe.

    M makes something similar and it is one of my favorites!

    Thank you for sharing this.

  31. Food does take everyone down the memory lane :) I think we try to cook dishes and try and match them to our memories...atleast I do :) I think all of us have heard..bitter is better! I dont like karelas that much but your preparation looks yummy since it has jaggery in it.

  32. Oh gosh girl! You killing me here! Bookmarked!

  33. hi! join in the EFM-Breakfast and Variety Rice Series going in my blog!

  34. Hello Sia, I came across your recipe here this week. This is my first time with bitter gourd and I am a bit afraid! This is only my second time trying my hand at Indian food, but my first try went so well I have to keep going! I do have a question though, since I am not familiar with ingredients can you tell me how i need to prepare the urad dal for this? I am quite confused. Do I cook it first and then used the already cooked dal? Or do I use them dried? OR am I mistaking this for something else entirely! Thank you!!

  35. @Shannon,
    U need to use the dry skinned black lentils (second picture here). Simply dry roast them with other ingredients listed under 'For Roasted Spices & Coconut Paste' as per the instruction and grind them all to smooth paste w/o adding any water.
    If it is the first time you are cooking bitter gourd them I suggest you to marinate with enough salt for at least 30-40 mins and then squeeze them really nice to drain their bitter juice. Then rinse under running water and again squeeze the excess bitter juice before you proceed to cook :) Bitter gourd comes under the category of acquired taste and not everyone is fond of them. The use of tamarind (for sour taste), jaggery/palm sugar (available in any Indian grocery store) and dry red chillies along other spices makes this into a interesting flavourful dish.
    Please don’t hesitate to leave a line if u need any other help :) You can also drop at our group blog Beyond Curries where we post some basic indian recipes for all those who are interested in learning simple home foods.

  36. Thank you so much! I really appreciate it. I was going to ask my friend Purva, but since it was your recipe I figured you would be the one to know! I will make a trip up to my local Indian store which is luckily within walking distance. I need to pick up some fresh frozen coconut anyway. I have a whole coconut, but I am thinking that might be a bit more work than I want to do tonight. Then again I could put my boyfriend to work!

  37. Somehow I have never liked this vegetable. My mother used to make it all the time. Palya, gojju and I wasn't forced to eat it anyway. I make it sometimes though. It was interesting to read your write up about your Ajji.

  38. I only have tamarind paste, not the dried one. How much should I use?

  39. @Kathleen, start with 3/4 tsp of concentrated tamarind paste. if u find the bitter gourd still too bitter, add another 1/4 tsp.

  40. Thanks! I will be trying this tonight.

  41. Wow--it's great! Thanks for sharing Sia.

  42. hello Sia,
    Long time follower of your blog; but haven't commented before. I tried this hagalakayi palya and sambar for idli recipe. Both turned out so good.Your blog shows your passion and love for cooking and thanks so much for sharing your recipes and stories with us.Almost feels like your life chronicle :-)
    Thanks again for the recipes. Our family and friends have thoroughly enjoyed them.

    Annadaata Sukhibhava,
    God bless you.


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