Instant Pot Masala Stuffed Karela (Bitter Melon)


If you like karela (bitter melon), you’ll love the fact that you can cook stuffed karela so easily in an instant pot!

Instant Pot Masala Stuffed Karela (Bitter Melon)

As a food blogger, I feel a bit funny sharing this recipe for masala stuffed karela because I know most of you aren’t going to like it. Bitter melon is a (very) acquired taste. In fact, I stand by what I wrote in my first bitter melon blog post that I shared with you guys a few years ago: if you’ve never tried bitter melon before, then there’s a 99% chance you’re not going to like this dish.

BUT this recipe is for those of us who do actually enjoy the unique flavor of bitter melon.

You can stuff karela with anything. In fact, I have another delicious stuffed karela recipe coming to the blog in a couple of weeks. For this recipe, though, we’re using my recipe for Indian onion masala along with some other spices, like amchur (dried mango powder). The sourness from the amchur balances out the bitterness from the karela. And yes, I realize that I am not making this dish sound appetizing at all – sour and bitter? Yep. If you like karela, then you’ll like this.

An Onion Masala Recipe:

This recipe is part of my onion masala series. Check out this post to learn all about it. The gist: I’m sharing recipes that call for exact amounts of onion masala to help make Indian cooking easier for you on a daily basis.

To make stuffed karela, you have to first peel the karela (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.

Stuffed Karela (Bitter Melon) with Onion Masala

You’ll steam them in the Instant Pot, then fry them in there too. Everything in one pot = fewer dishes, woohoo!

What is Karela and Why Eat it?

Bitter melon looks kind of like a prickly cucumber and it’s said to help with all sorts of medical ailments.

So what are the health benefits? First, let me say I am a FOOD BLOGGER and not in the medical field in any way – but it is said to help with diabetes, cancer, viral infections, and immune disorders. 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.

I eat bitter melon because I like it and I personally think that’s a good enough reason.

About Mustard Oil:

I prefer to shallow fry bitter melon in mustard oil because it has a distinctive flavor that works well with bitter melon. You can find it in any Indian grocery store or on amazon (I like this brand of organic mustard oil) – but before I get myself 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 disclaimer in small words on the bottle – but know that Indian people use it all the time for frying their food. You can 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 the use of sunflower oil” and here is an interesting article by the NY Times. Again, I’m just a foodie.

Tell me what you think of this dish, especially if you are brave enough to try it having never eaten karela before! I want to know if you want me to share more karela recipes.

Stuffed Karela (Bitter Melon) with Onion Masala

Instant Pot Masala Stuffed Karela (Bitter Melon)

Instant Pot Masala Stuffed Karela (Bitter Melon)

Instant Pot Masala Stuffed Karela (Bitter Melon)

5 from 3 reviews
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  • 7 small – medium bitter melons (karelas)



  • 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 bitter melons aside for now.
  • Mix all of the filling ingredients together in a bowl.
  • Fill about 1 tablespoon of masala into each karela (add a bit extra to the larger karelas). Tie them with kitchen twine to hold the masala inside.
  • Pour 2 cups of 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 bitter 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 and fry them on all sides, flipping them over every few minutes once one side has browned. 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.
  • This recipe is part of my onion masala series – be sure to check it out!
Did you make this recipe?Tag @myheartbeets on Instagram and hashtag it #myheartbeets!

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Find out more about my cookbooks Indian Food Under Pressure and South Asian Persuasion.

About Ashley

Hi, I’m Ashley. Thanks for being here! I truly believe that food brings us closer together. Gather around a table with good food and good people, and you’ll have the ingredients you need to create some happy memories. My hope is that you find recipes here that you can’t wait to share with family and friends.


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  1. Katherine P says

    5 stars
    Well, I’m not India Indian, so to rights I should not have liked this. But I am adventurous, and I also have a different approach to tastes. The bottom line is that I loved it. To me it was delightful for two reasons. First, it is definitely bitter, and it’s quite interesting to my palate to be having something that fits in that flavour profile for a change. The second part is the complexity of flavours, which I Also find interesting, and is also the reason I enjoy Indian recipes so much. I knew this was going to be something very different when I saw that the recipe called for an entire tablespoon of amchur for the masala.
    Another reason why I like it might have to do with what I grew up eating. I am a North American Indian (Native American, American Indian, Indigenous North American, or whatever term suits you best) and the foods we eat on our Reservation are frequently bitter. Our diet includes the usual corn, beans and squash, and also includes some things which you will definitely not see on the usual American menu, including certain types of bugs in season, and native wild herbs and spices which are native to our part of the United States, and cannot be found in grocery stores. Some of the things we use in our cooking are considered noxious weed in much of the country.
    I do not consider any flavour to be intrinsically good or bad any more than a specific coulour is intrinsically good or bad. What I do find bad is the absence of flavour, or a flavour which is overwhelming and singular. Plain sugar is disgusting to me, but sugar as an ingredient is not, as long as it is not a flavour which eclipses all other flavours. I don’t like most American candies, or sugary drinks such as pop because they are two sweet for my palate. Strangely perhaps, I do like the tomato chutney found on this site, probably because there are so many other flavours in it.
    I had one small problem in the making of this dish. I must be hopelessly bad at tying up my bitter melons because some of the masala leaked out when I turned them on their sides and upside down while browning them. In the end there was plenty of masala still inside them when they were done, so I have to assume it’s not a game ender for a little of it to get loose. In the end it was delicious and very satisfying, so I suppose that it doesn’t matter that some of it came out.
    This review is long, and I need to get busy with tonight’s supper, which is going to be the bitter melon peel stir fry found elsewhere on this site. It uses the peels removed from these bitter melons in their preparation as well as the leftover mustard oil. Whenever I can use all or most of everything that’s a big plus for me. Therefore, this is going to be a bonus. Free food as it is, sort of like the watermelon rind curry found elsewhere on this site is. I love finding ways to use things which would otherwise be thrown out. It gives you more value for your dollar, as well as more food. It also plays into our tribal beliefs of not wasting anything.
    Off I go to the next cooking challenge!
    Thanks so very much for the many fantastic and easy to make recipes you have put up here over the past years. I have greatly enjoyed making some of them over the past two weeks, and I’m looking forward to making many more in the weeks to come.

    • Ashley - My Heart Beets says

      Katherine, I’m so glad you liked the karela! And I agree – I always try to avoid waste as much as possible so I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the recipes that use up the “scraps.” Thanks for letting me know how this turned out for you 🙂

  2. kunal says

    Actually… just in addition to my last comment, have you tried making this dish without frying at all? Ie, after cooking in the instapot, without the frying component that comes after?

    • Ashley - My Heart Beets says

      Hi Kunal, I haven’t tried this recipe without frying the karela – typically when I eat/make karela it’s usually fried/pan-fried. You can try it steamed and see how it tastes – but my guess is, like most things, it’ll taste better fried.

  3. Kunal says

    Hi Ashley, quick question, I wanted to try one of the receipes with Kerala (bitter melon), but noticed all your recipes use mustard oil, and there is a frying component to all of them.

    Does kerala just taste better with frying? And do I have to use mustard oil?


  4. Drew Peacock says

    5 stars
    Decided to go for the deep end and buy some beautiful karela from Patel Brothers and make this recipe. The stuffing is delicious! We had some extra and fried up some small patties of it as a side dish. Stuffed inside the karela, it really makes this a delicious and interesting dish. I like bitter greens and this is a different bitter than that, will definitely be making this again. very easy to adapt to fryingpan as our 8 quart instant pot is too deep to comfortably turn them when frying.

  5. Maneesha says

    5 stars
    Prior to your recipe, I never really enjoyed the taste of karela, and I would basically force feed myself to eat it for it’s nutritional properties! But this recipe was a hit! I really enjoyed it!! I definitely recommend it to anyone considering cooking with bitter melon!

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