Bharwa Karela | Stuffed Bitter Gourd

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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.

bharwa karela served on a white plate with roti.

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.

Punjabi bharwa karela served on a white plate with roti

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.

Step-by-Step Guide

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.

stuffed karela in a plate in first photo and spices in a plate in second photo

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.

stuff the karela and then pan fry them in a pan with oil

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.

sauted onions and then adding cooked bharwa karela to onions

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.

Punjabi bharwa karela served on a white plate with roti

Helpful Tips

  • 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 recipe, stuffed bitter gourd recipe

Bharwa Karela | Stuffed Karela

This Punjabi style bharwa karela features bitter gourd stuffed with ground spices and cooked with caramelized onions. It makes for a healthy side dish with Indian breads like roti, paratha or phulka.
4.82 from 16 votes
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Cuisine North Indian, Punjabi
Course Side Dish
Diet Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Difficulty Level Moderate
Servings 3


  • 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)

Nutrition Facts
Bharwa Karela | Stuffed Karela
Amount Per Serving
Calories 217 Calories from Fat 135
% Daily Value*
Fat 15g23%
Saturated Fat 1g6%
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 12g
Sodium 415mg18%
Potassium 1059mg30%
Carbohydrates 21g7%
Fiber 11g46%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 4g8%
Vitamin A 1620IU32%
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) 1mg67%
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 1mg59%
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) 1mg5%
Vitamin B6 1mg50%
Vitamin C 266mg322%
Vitamin E 6mg40%
Vitamin K 2µg2%
Calcium 87mg9%
Vitamin B9 (Folate) 238µg60%
Iron 2mg11%
Magnesium 64mg16%
Phosphorus 124mg12%
Zinc 3mg20%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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This Bharwa Karela recipe post from the blog archives (first published in May 2013) has been updated and republished on 1st July 2021.

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Meet Dassana

Welcome to Dassana's Veg Recipes. I share vegetarian recipes from India & around the World. Having been cooking for decades and with a professional background in cooking & baking, I help you to make your cooking journey easier with my tried and tested recipes showcased with step by step photos & plenty of tips & suggestions.

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  1. Love your recipes .. I find them easy to follow and the food turns out awesome ! Thank you 😊5 stars

  2. Hi mam.. super recipe. I try all your recipes.. just so easy to follow and no worries about the taste.. it’s always awesome.. thank you so much..

    1. Hi Surabhi, thanks for the trust and for the feedback on the recipes. Nice to know. Welcome and Happy Cooking.

  3. hi ma
    its really super cooking, same like my mom she used to cook same recipe in my child hood thank u for every recipe each and every super.5 stars

  4. plz tell if if it the dish has strong bitter taste because i don’t like it.
    can i apply salt (as many people do) before making to make it go away?

    1. some bitterness is there as karela is inherently bitter. of course, you can apply salt on the karela and then rinse it.

  5. Hi Dassana
    I am trying ur recipes from last year. I tried veg kolhapur,veg handi & poodina rice.They turned out delicious.Everybody loved the taste.Hat’s off to recipes & fabulous way u explain them to readers.Today I am trying Bharwa Karela .I am sure it will taste as good as it looks in ur pics. Thanks for all ur recipes.Keep sharing.God bless u.4 stars

    1. thank you akalpita 🙂 for your positive views. pleased to know you liked so many recipes from our blog. surely try bharwan karela and let us know how it was? you are welcome and god bless you too.

  6. Can I just say I have & always will love Karela’s & I could eat them everyday but I usually make the filling separately from the outer shell which I lightly fry as too much oil & us Asians is a no no & I always pad out the filling so I can stuff theKarela’s to the max & then once made a reheat in the oven again is a healthier option

  7. Made this for a dinner party last night. Did not have saunf powder so just substituted dhana/jeera powder instead. I thought I had purchased small Karelas but found the amount of masala to not be enough to stuff the Karelas. I was just able to rub the inside of each karela with the masala mix. I did not tie the karelas up since they did not looked stuffed with masala. I just fried them as instructed along with the onions. Once the onions were fried and caramelized, I pushed small amounts into the openings and continued frying them. The end result was amazingly delicious but have no idea what I could have done differently. My guests loved them and took the leftovers home but I am still curious to find out how small the Karelas should be in length for stuffing ? The ones I was able to purchase in California were between 3-5 inches long.3 stars

    1. the spice blend for the kerala is always made depending on the size of the karela. mostly the smaller ones are between 2 to 3 inches in size. most of the times, i always have a few teaspoons of leftover masala. for next time if such a thing occurs, with the same proportions make another batch of the masala. its just mixing all the spice powders, so easy and not difficult. the masala has to stuffed evenly in the karela. the thread is tied so that the masala does not come out. along with the spices, its the caramelized onions that impart a really good taste and flavor in this recipe. so even stuffing karela with the onions will make them taste good.

  8. I liked your recipe very much.. Wanted to ask you dont we need to add dhania powder to the masala ?

    1. thanks radhika. no need. we don’t add it. but if you prefer you can add dhania powder. the punjabi garam masala powder has a good amount of dhania/coriander in it.

  9. Hi dassana,i love ur recipies ,i have just one question ,is there any other way measure the turmeric powder its 3/4 teaspoons ,isn’t it very small quantity for 10 to 12 karelas or i am getting wrong pl help2 stars

    1. hina, if you put more turmeric powder then karela will have a strong taste and flavor of turmeric which will spoil the taste. some spices are used in less quantities like asafoedita, nutmeg, black cardamom, mace etc. take little less than 1 tsp to measure.

  10. I have always tried ur receipes it turns out very tasty thank u for sharing4 stars

  11. i love this recipe
    its just yamyyyyyyyyyyyyy……..
    Thank u soooo much3 stars

  12. I like your receipes very much. Its very simple and tasty. Thanks for sharing.

  13. You are becoming my fav u got to stop doing this to me. More than I spend my time in my blog I am looking at ur site u have to stop it dear. There is some magic going on here well just kidding loving ur recipe plz keep up the good work.

  14. nice post dassana..
    in punjab a very popular filling in karelas is grated onion which is fried in pan and then all the masalas u added are added to the mixture and filled in karelas…and here sauf is not added in powder form but sabut…
    they also really taste well…..and have u tried the peel’s subzi..
    karela peel is kept aside with salt in it for an hour and rinse it properly and remove all the water.. in kadai add cut onins and jeera and add this peel with all regular masalas mentioned in ur post…saunf ..if sabut tastes good in this recipe ‘s individual choice…:)

    1. i have tried all the possible versions of stuffed karela. i remember we had a maid from delhi, who would exactly do the technique you have described with the peels. some sabzi she would keep aside and some she would stuff in the kareal. i used to be so busy with work that time, that i never asked her the complete recipe. she would make really good stuffed karelas. in this she would add both roasted jeera as well as saunf powder.

      also the punjabis make it the way you have described above. i have even tried this one. i am going to try making the peel sabzi next time. and also stuff them in the karela.

  15. Nice! We make this in the Caribbean and call it kalounjie. In addition to making a vegetarian version such as this we also make it stuffed with baby shrimp, ground beef and ground pork. Ours is sautéed in a masala paste with lots of tomatoes. 🙂5 stars

    1. hi cynthia, i did not know that karela is made in caribbean too. thanks for the info and tidbits.