If you like karela (bitter melon), you will LOVE this aloo stuffed karela! It’s so easy to make in an instant pot!
This recipe is also known as bharwa karela, which just means stuffed karela. You can stuff bitter melon with anything (onion masala, chutneys, etc) but today, I’m sharing a recipe that calls for a spiced potato filling!
Before I tell you about the dish though, there’s something you should know.
I have three other bitter melon recipes on my blog and in all posts, I share a warning with my readers: bitter melon is a love it/hate it kind of fruit. And chances are that if you didn’t grow up eating it or haven’t yet acquired a taste for it – that you’re going to be in the latter category.
If you’re feeling adventurous and still want to give bitter melon a try, then this is the recipe for potato stuffed bitter melon is the one to make. It’s a good “first time” karela recipe because it calls for potato which really helps to balance out the flavor of the bitter melon.
The potato filling has what we call a “chatpata” flavor meaning that it’s pretty tangy. The tangy flavor in this filling is from amchur powder (dried green mango powder). This tart and salty filling really mellows out the bitterness of the melon. If there’s any chance of you liking bitter melon, then this is the recipe that’ll do it for you.
Now IF you are already a fan of bitter melon, then get ready for an incredible way to prepare it – because you are going to love this!
To make this recipe, first peel the bitter melon (save the peels for this chilke ki sabzi recipe), then make a slit on one side and remove all of the seeds. After that, stuff the melons then tie them up with kitchen twine. The twine helps to keep the stuffing inside when you shallow fry them at the end. You’ll first steam them in the Instant Pot, then fry them in there too. Everything in one pot = less dishes!
The photo below is of a different recipe: stuffed karela with an onion tomato masala but the process is basically the same:
Why Eat Karela If It’s So Bitter?
Bitter melon is considered to be a very healthy fruit – one that Indian parents often insist upon their children for this very reason (I have first hand experience with this lol). I used to think eating bitter melon was some sort of punishment as a child but now I love it. I gave my toddler a tiny piece of my karela when I made it a few weeks ago and he immediately spat it out and gave me a look like “mom, what the heck did you just give me.” I am 100% certain I gave that same look to my parents – it makes me smile to think about that now 🙂 I probably won’t try giving him any more karela for awhile…
So what are the health benefits? Well, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, bitter melon is “used as food and as medicine to treat diabetes, cancer, viral infections, and immune disorders.” Some studies have shown that the properties in bitter melon indicate anticancer and antiviral effects. I obviously do not suggest trying to heal yourself without first talking to a doctor. There can also be adverse side effects to eating bitter melon – do not eat this fruit if you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or might be expecting (read more about that here).
I really enjoy eating bitter melon and I personally think that’s a good enough reason – the health benefits are certainly a plus.
Now let’s be honest here, eating this stuffed karela with a potato filling probably isn’t the healthiest way to eat bitter melon so if you prefer a healthier version of stuffed karela then try this recipe instead which calls for an onion masala filling.
What’s Up with Mustard Oil?:
I like to shallow fry the stuffed karela in mustard oil because it has a very distinctive flavor that pairs nicely with bitter melon. You can find mustard oil in any Indian grocery store or on amazon (I like this brand of organic mustard oil) Before I get into trouble with the US government here, you should know that in the US – mustard oil is sold for “external use only.” You’ll find that unsettling disclaimer in small words on the bottle but please know that Indian people use it all the time for frying their food. You can certainly use another type of oil if you’d like.
If you’re interested in learning more about mustard oil, here’s a study that was done in 2004 by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which found that the “use of mustard oil, which is rich in α-linolenic acid, was associated with a lower risk than was use of sunflower oil”and here is an interesting article by the NY Times. I am not a doctor or a scientist or anything other than a foodie so take from that what you will and make your own decisions.
If you try this dish, let me know what you think of it!
- 7 small/medium bitter melons (karela)
To cook the potatoes:
- Add 1 cup water to the steel insert in the Instant Pot and place a steamer inside the pot. Add the potatoes on top of the steamer, secure the lid, close the pressure valve and cook for 10 minutes at high pressure. Quick release and dump out the water.
How to make stuffed karela:
- Peel some of the bumpy skin off of the bitter melons, then make a slit along the middle and spoon out any seeds. Set the melons aside for now.
- Add the cooked potatoes to a bowl along with the remaining filling ingredients and mix well.
- Spoon the filling inside the bitter melons then tie them with kitchen twine to hold the masala inside
- Pour 2 cups water into the steel insert of the Instant Pot, then place a steamer inside. Put the bitter melons in the steamer, seamed side up.
- Secure the lid, close the valve and cook for 2 minutes at high pressure.
- Quick release pressure.
- Remove the melons and set them aside for now. Dump out the water from the pot and make sure to dry it completely.
- Press the sauté button, adjust the heat to its highest setting, add the mustard oil and and wait for a few minutes to allow the mustard oil to get very hot (best if the screen says hot).
- Add the bitter melons to the pot with the seam side up (you will fry the seamed side at the end). Fry the melons on all sides, turning them once they turn brown – wait to fry the stuffed side until the very end. (When you fry the stuffed side, some of the potato may fall out and burn at the bottom of the pan – that’s okay! Scrape it up at the very end and eat it if you want – it’s yummy!). This step takes awhile – it should take a total of 15 or so minutes to get them fully browned.
- Remove the kitchen twine and serve.
- To make roasted cumin powder: heat a skillet over low heat and dry roast cumin seeds (I usually do 1 cup) for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the color of the cumin changes to a dark brown. Turn off the heat and allow the cumin seeds to cool down. Place the cumin into a spice grinder and blend until smooth. Store in an airtight jar and use within 6-8 months for the most flavor.
- I discard the bitter melon seeds but I save the peels. You can use the peels in this bitter melon peel stir-fry with potatoes and caramelized onions