Bharwa karela is a popular stuffed bitter gourd recipe from the North Indian Cuisine. This recipe is made in so many different ways from a dry sauteed dish to a curried version. Here I share my family recipe of bitter gourds filled with ground spices and sauteed with caramelized onions. This is a Punjabi-style recipe of Bharwan karela with bitter notes from the bitter gourd balanced by the sweetness of the caramelized onions. It makes for an excellent vegan side dish with some roti, paratha, naan or with any North Indian vegetarian meal.
Karela or bitter gourd is a vegetable that is not liked by many people. Personally, I know so many people who just don’t eat this veggie. The reason is obvious. It has a strong bitter taste that many people don’t like.
Bitter gourd was often made in our house and even while growing up I would just love the bitter taste. We would make Bitter gourd fry, stuff them or make chips. I have even had the bitter gourd juice many times. I can have cooked bitter gourd, but the juice would be too much for me 🙂
This recipe of stuffed karela is from my mother-in-law’s fabulous collection of Punjabi recipes. It is very easy to prepare and just some onions and our regular Indian spice powders are required.
My mother-in-law does not add fennel powder. But I strongly recommend adding fennel powder as its sweet flavors just enhance this dish. It is also good for digestion and adds a good aroma and flavor to the spice mix.
The onions are browned and as a result, impart their sweetness in this dish. This takes away from the slight bitterness that is there in the dish if any.
If you don’t have time to stuff the karela then try another variation of this recipe – Karela Sabzi (Punjabi style). Both these recipes taste good with roti or plain paratha.
I have created a collage for the step-by-step bharwa karela recipe where two steps are shown. When I had made the dish a few months back, I had clicked vertical pics. By the time the dish was over, it already became night and the final pics were not good. Recently I made these again and clicked the final pics in a good amount of day light.
You can keep the peels if you want. In the step by step, I have removed the peels. However, in the final pics, I did not remove the peels.
How to make Bharwa Karela
1: Rinse the bitter gourds with fresh water a few times. Then wipe them dry with a clean kitchen towel. You can peel them if you want. I generally do not rub salt in the bitter gourds.
If making for kids, then apply or rub salt over the karela and keep aside for some minutes. Later throw away the juices and rinse the gourds well.
Wipe them dry. Make a cut on each karela vertically keeping the base intact. Remove the pith and seeds with your hands or with a spoon.
Small sized bitter gourd are the best to make bharwan karela. Take all the dry spice powders in a plate or bowl and mix them well with salt.
2: Stuff the karela with the dry spice powder mix with a spoon or with your hands. Stuff well and tighten the stuffed karela with a clean thread. Wrung the thread all around and tie a knot so that the thread does become loose while frying the karela.
Heat oil in a kadai or a frying pan or a skillet. When the oil becomes medium hot then lower the heat and add the stuffed bitter gourds. You can use any neutral flavored oil or mustard oil.
Stir and gently mix with the oil. Pan fry them on a low heat till they get browned and cooked well and become fork tender. Keep stirring and turning over after 2 to 3 minutes for even cooking.
Keep them aside. I always fry on a low heat so that if in any case, the masala falls into the oil, they don’t burn.
3: In the same pan, add extra oil if required or if there is too much oil, then remove it. You can even take a fresh batch of oil.
Add the sliced onions and begin to saute them stirring often on low heat. When the onions start to get browned, add the pan-fried bitter gourd and saute for a few minutes till the onions are caramelized and crisp.
If there is extra spice powder remaining, then add it in the pan and stir. The leftover spice powder is added towards the end, so that they don’t burn.
4: Before serving remember to remove the threads. Serve the bharwa karela with soft phulka or paratha. They also make a good side dish with dal and rice.
It can also be packed for lunch box with a side for roti or paratha. You can also serve it with any North Indian vegetarian meal.
- Bitter gourd – In recipes like these it is best to use fresh and tender bitter gourd. Do not use bitter gourd that are mature and have lots of seeds.
- Onions – You can make this recipe with red onions or white onions or yellow onions. I have never made it with shallots but I think it will taste good.
- Spicing – You can increase or decrease the amount of spices according to your liking.
- Dry Mango Powder – The souring agent in this recipe is dry mango powder which is also called as amchur powder. If you don’t have it then in its place you can add lemon juice or a bit of tamarind pulp. If using lemon juice then drizzle it on the dish once it’s cooked and mix well. For tamarind pulp, add a bit of it when you add the cooked stuffed karela to the sauteed onions.
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Bharwa Karela | Stuffed Karela
- 10 to 12 small karela (bitter gourd)
- ¾ teaspoon turmeric powder (ground turmeric)
- ¾ teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne pepper
- ¼ teaspoon Garam Masala
- 1 teaspoon dry mango powder (amchur powder)
- 1 teaspoon fennel powder
- 2 medium sized onions – finely sliced
- 3 tablespoons oil – any neutral flavored oil or mustard oil
- 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves for garnish (optional)
- salt as required
Preparation and Stuffing Karela
- Rinse the bitter gourd in fresh water a few times and wipe dry with a clean kitchen towel. Then peel them.
- Make a vertical cut on each karela keeping the base intact.
- Remove the seeds and pith with your hands or scrape with a small spoon.
- Mix all the dry spice powders with salt.
- Stuff the spice powder mix in the karela.
- Tie a thread tightly around each karela.
Making bharwa karela
- Heat the oil in a pan or kadai or skillet. Once the oil becomes medium hot, then lower the heat. Add the stuffed karela. Stir and gently mix with the oil.
- Begin to pan fry them on a low heat.
- Stir and turn over after evey 2 to 3 minutes for even cooking. Pan fry them on low heat till they are browned, cooked and fork tender. Once cooked then remove in a plate and set aside.
- In the same oil, add the sliced onions and fry them stirring often till they begin to brown. If the oil is less then you can 1 tablespoon more oil.
- Then add the cooked karela and saute till they the onions become crisp and golden. Keep stirring at intervals.
- Add the rest of the spice mix, if there is any left over.
- In case if you have added less salt in the spice mix, you can add it now.
- While serving remove the thread and serve bharwa karela garnished with chopped coriander leaves.
- Bharwan karela is best had hot or warm with some roti, phulka or as a side vegetable dish with dal-rice or any North Indian vegetarian main course meal.
- The recipe can be doubled or tripled.
- The amount of spices can be altered as per your taste.
- Use fresh and tender bitter gourd. Avoid the bitter gourd that has become mature or has lots of seeds.
Nutrition Info (Approximate Values)
This Bharwa Karela recipe post from the blog archives (first published in May 2013) has been updated and republished on 1st July 2021.