Karela Stir-fry (Bitter Melon)


karela stir-fry (bitter melon) recipe by myheartbeets.com

It’s not every day that a food blogger tells you NOT to make one of her recipes, but the truth is, if you’ve never tried bitter melon before, there’s a 99% chance you’re not going to like this dish. This recipe is for those of us who grew up eating karela (bitter melon) and enjoy its strange flavor. It’s an acquired taste – very acquired – so for those who decide to make this Karela stir-fry having never tried it before… you’ve been warned.

There’s a reason this fruit is named bitter melon. When I was a kid, I thought I was being punished when my parents asked me to eat karela. As an adult, I find its bitterness intriguing, so unpalatable that with every bite, I seriously question my taste for enjoying something so ridiculously bitter. I wonder if other bitter melon fans feel the same way. Maybe we’ve learned to like it because of its supposed health benefits?

A strange analogy, but I’m going to compare bitter melon to beer.

I hated beer the first time I tried it, and truthfully, I still do… but most people eventually learn to love it. So, if you hate karela now, maybe one day you’ll wake up and decide that you’re in the mood for something extremely bitter – or maybe not. An interesting little fact – in China, bitter melon is sometimes used in place of hops in beer. So, maybe the beer analogy isn’t so strange after all. 😉

karela stir-fry (bitter melon) recipe by myheartbeets.com

You don’t have to peel the karela when you make it, but doing so helps remove some of the bitterness. I love pairing bitter melon with sweet caramelized onions.

Have you tried karela before?

Karela (Bitter Melon)

karela stir-fry (bitter melon) recipe by myheartbeets.com

Karela (Bitter Melon)

5 from 7 reviews
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  • 4 tablespoons avocado oil divided
  • 4 karela bitter melon, cut into ¼ inch slices
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric


  • Using a vegetable peeler, peel the bitter melon.
  • Slice the bitter melon into ¼ inch slices and remove as many seeds as possible (the rest will be easy to remove once cooked).
  • Add 3 tablespoons of avocado oil to a pan over medium heat. Then add the bitter melon slices and stir-fry for 5 minutes.
  • Add the spices and mix well. Cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes, checking on it halfway to make sure the vegetable isn’t burning.
  • Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of avocado oil and the onion, give the pan a good stir then reduce the heat to low-medium heat.
  • Put the cover back on and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the onions have caramelized.
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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. Kat says

    Ji Ashley, You mention mustard oil in another karela recipe. Curious why you chose to use avocado oil here. Do you think mustard oil would be too strong in this recipe? Thank you for these recipes!

  2. Drew Peacock says

    I have a question about karela ripeness, I just got 1 today with slimy red seeds inside and it had started to turn yellow and I tasted a small piece and it was kind of neutral flavor not bitter, I assume it’s just ripe, what’s indian attitude on the fruit when it ripens? Does it have different use?

  3. Avi says

    What’s the reason you peel it, I don’t usually not did I this time… but am I missing a secret step?

    Great recipe though!

  4. Katerina Daniel says

    5 stars
    Saved me from calling my mom for on the fly directions to make the pavakkia. Thanks for helping us with our totally inauthentic but delish Onam sadhya, Ashley!

  5. Manju says

    5 stars
    I loved your recipe. It’s simple and delicious. I am always looking for new ways to cook. You used avocado oil. I looked up the benefits of avocado oil and will get some. O look forward to trying other recipes. It is wonderful that you are encorporating North and South Indian flavors.

    • My Heart Beets says

      Hi Manju, that’s so great to hear 🙂 Thanks for letting me know how this turned out for you! I can’t wait to hear what you think of any other recipes you try from my site!

  6. Omar says

    Thanks for sharing this recipe. I grew up eating this at home and my mom would make it with tomatoes and onions sometimes but almost always with minced meat. As Punjabis, we eat more mutton than beef but you have to try it hollowed with minced beef and if beef is not your thing than atleast with mutton. there are recipes out there where they remove the seeds and stuff it with the minced meat and kind of saute/fry them. I am not a great cook and since my mom passed had been craving this and have tried at least a hundred recipes and it never came out right with the spices either overwhelming or the vegetable cooked to where there is nothing left of it. i didnt even use the peeler (or the salt bath treatment) because thats how everyone i know ate it and it was for the bitterness and the wonderful sweetness of the onion with it and thanks to you i was exposed to that taste again. I really appreciate it. Thanks you once again!

    • My Heart Beets says

      Omar, I’m so glad you enjoyed this recipe – thank you so much for leaving me a comment. I’m sorry for the loss of your mother – her cooking sounds delicious. I bet this would be delicious paired with ground meat – I will be sure to try a karela and ground meat dish some time and if it works out well, I’ll also be sure to share 🙂 thank you.

  7. Mike says

    I eat it raw. I make a sauce using soy bean oil, chopped garlic, chopped red onion and Thai chilli peppers. Then I just dip the melon and bite into it. Delicious.

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