BHARWAN KARELA – भरवाँ करेला (Stuffed Bitter Gourd)

You either love this dish or you hate it.  There is no in-between when it comes to bitter gourd or karela. It is bitter as bitter can be and it needs to be treated with salt to get rid of that bitterness yet it still retains some bitterness even after all the salt marination and cooking. However, this one veggie I have loved even as a kid and that says a lot coz I was a very picky eater. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I love bitter foods. For instance, I love sarson ka saag and even methi with as much gusto as I love bitter chocolate.

Just for the information, for all the karela haters, they are excellent for diabetics, good for hair and skin, help cleanse the liver, good for digestion and cardiac health, help fight cancer and also help in weight management. Read more details here.

The recipe for this bharwan karela or stuffed bitter gourd is how my mother used to make it. It is typically Punjabi way of making karela with stuffing of fried onions, ginger garlic and tomatoes to which spices are added. It helps tone down the taste of bitter gourd. Also, soaking the marinated karela in hot water and later frying them really helps take down the bitter notes to a great level.

Since I am avoiding stepping out of the house, so I get my grocery and my veggies etc, online. And the karela that I received were jumbo size but thankfully they were lean. You need to use smaller / shorter sized karela for this recipe. They have thinner skin, are less bitter, have softer and lesser amount of seeds and are easier to cook and fry.

Here are the ingredients that go into making the stuffed karela. Feel free to adjust amount of spices to suit your taste. At my mother’s, it was always served with tandoori roti, green chili chutney and a tall glass of lassi.


500 gm Karela (approx. weight)

Salt to marinate the Karela

3 – 4 tbsp Oil for shallow frying (adjust amount as required)


¼ C Mustard Oil (Use any oil of your choice but I prefer using mustard)

½ tsp Cumin Seeds

350 gm Onions

150 – 200 gm Ripe Red Tomatoes (adjust amount to taste), finely chopped

1 tbsp grated Ginger

1 tbsp grated Garlic

Salt to taste

½ tsp – 1 tsp Red Chili Powder (adjust amount according to heat of the chili)

½ tsp Turmeric Powder

2 tsp Coriander Powder

½ tsp Garam Masala

2 tsp Dry Mango Powder/ Amchur

Cut off and discard both the ends of the karela and using a peeler scrap off the rough skin from the karela. (Do not discard the skin. We shall use it for making delicious potato stir fry, what we call Chhilke wale Aloo)

Make vertical slits half way through the karela and scoop out the seeds along with the flesh. Apply salt all over the skin of the peeled karela. Set aside for two to three hours. (I keep it for longer hours, sometimes even overnight. Or if possible, I keep the karela to marinate in the sun for two hours, just like my mum used to)

If you intend to use the skin of the scrapped karela, apply two teaspoons of salt to the peels as well. (proceed here for rest of the recipe)

Heat plenty of water in a sauce pan and dip the marinated karela in the hot water for a half minute to get rid of excess salt.

Remove the karela from the water and plunge them in cold water. Drain the water and transfer the karela to a colander or a large sieve to get rid of excess water. Set aside.

Peel the onions and remove the bottom part but retain the upper part, i.e. is the stem part since it helps in holding the onions while grating. Wash the onions and then, using the stem part for holding, roughly grate the onions. Set aside.

Take a saucepan and heat oil. If using mustard oil, smoke the oil and then reduce the heat. Add cumin seeds and allow it to crackle. Add the grated onions and fry till it turns brown, stirring frequently.

Add a little water followed by the ginger and garlic. Fry till the ginger and garlic are cooked and there is no longer any raw smell. Add a two to three tablespoons of water and then add the spices except amchur.

Cook the masala along with the spices for a minute and then switch off the heat. Stir in the amchur and remove the contents in the plate. Allow to cool and then start filling the karela with the stuffing. Do not over stuff as the filling will pop out and burn while frying. Using a thread (I did not have a white coloured thread so I used a twine) tie the karela to hold everything together and set aside.

Take some oil in a frying pan or a kadai / wok (begin by taking three tablespoons) and once the oil is hot, carefully start adding the stuffed karela. Fry from all sides on medium high flame till all sides turn brown in colour. If your pan is large in size you can do it all together else fry them in batches.

Once done, remove them on an absorbent sheet or kitchen tissue.

It was always served with Chhilke Wale Aloo, tandoori roti, some roughly ground green chili chutney (with only salt added to it) and a tall glass of lassi. Divine!

Serves 6

Note – Do not puree the onions, ginger or garlic. I strongly suggest only grating these three for better texture of filling.

Note – The karela aloo pairs very well with roti and this Kairi Tamatar Chutney also

Thanks for your visit and see you soon again with another exciting recipe.

10 thoughts on “BHARWAN KARELA – भरवाँ करेला (Stuffed Bitter Gourd)

  1. What an interesting dish! I’ve never heard of bitter gourd, but I also enjoy bitter flavors in foods, and paired with the lovely spice mix you use, I can imagine this being so delicious. I also like that you reserved parts of the skin for the potato dish as well!

    1. Thank you Laura 🙂 Bitter gourd is made in various ways across India.

  2. One of my favourite summer gourds. My mom used to make claypots with dried shrimps, sometimes pork, with them…sometimes a stirfry with eggs. They were a MUST during the hot humid summer time. Love your stuffed version and can’t wait to try it!

    1. Makes me happy to know that you enjoy this vegetable 😀 I love how your mom incorporated it in so many ways to different dishes.

  3. One of my summer favorite side with yellow daal. I have never tried the stuffing with tomatoes. Will definitely try this summer.

    1. Thank you so much Natasha for always leaving such kind and encouraging words 🙂

  4. I’ve never tried bitter gourds, because I never knew how to prepare them…
    But this dish looks so very yummy, I can’t wait to try it!

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