If you like karela (bitter melon), you’ll love the fact that you can cook stuffed karela so easily in an instant pot!
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 strange 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 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 though, then you’ll like this.
This recipe is part of the onion masala series that I’m sharing this month on my blog. 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.
You’ll steam them in the Instant Pot, then fry them in there too. Everything in one pot = less dishes, woohoo!
What is Karela and Why Eat it?
Bitter melon looks kind of like an ugly cucumber and it’s said to help with all sorts of medical ailments.
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 eat bitter melon because I like it and I personally think that’s a good enough reason…
A Note about Mustard Oil:
I prefer to shallow fry bitter melon in mustard oil because it has a very distinctive flavor that works really 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 also 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 use of sunflower oil”and here is an interesting article by the NY Times. I am not a doctor or a scientist or really anything other than a foodie, so take from that what you will and make your own decisions.
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.
- 7 (small – medium) bitter melons (karelas)
- ½ cup (fresh or thawed) onion masala
- 1 tablespoon amchur (dried mango powder)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon roasted cumin powder*
- Handful cilantro leaves, chopped
- ½ cup mustard oil
- 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!