Keema Bharay Karelay (Stuffed Bitter Gourd)

I had been intrigued by these warty green veggies for quite awhile before I finally tried them last summer. I didn’t know what to expect as far as texture and flavor; I had imagined they would be soft like a cucumber and was worried about them falling apart as I scooped out the seeds, and that the flavor would be unbearably bitter for unaccustomed tongues. However, they turned out to be very firm, easy to peel and clean (the seeds are interesting – large, white and round), and the flavor is a pleasant kind of bitter, especially with the complimentary tartness of the tamarind-flavored beef.

I have been thoroughly swayed by their ugly charms.

Karelay are often just chopped and stir-fried with beef, tamarind and spices, which I definitely like the idea of. I was most interested to try the stuffed preparation, although most recipes instruct you to fill the halved gourds with the beef mixture, then secure the halves with strings before finishing them stovetop. As an avowed non-turkey-trusser, this is way too fussy for me. I figured I’d try finishing it in the oven in a casserole dish – same results, less of an art project.

Keema Bharay Karelay (Stuffed Bitter Gourd)

  • 1 pound bitter gourds (about 6 medium)
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • salt
  • flavorless oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled and grated
  • ground spices: 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon each coriander, garam masala, cumin, 1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons red chili
  • 3 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind paste

Peel the bitter gourds with a vegetable peeler, slice in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Sprinkle with generously with salt and allow to sit in a colander and drain for at least half an hour. Rinse.

Heat oil, and fry the gourds in batches, so that the outsides are golden brown (you don’t have to be super thorough, just give them a little color). Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil and saute onions until golden brown. Add garlic and ginger, and stir for another minute, then add spices and stir for another minute. Add chopped tomatoes and a good sprinkle of salt, then cook until completely broken down, and at least half of the liquid has evaporated and the oil is beginning to separate from the mixture.

Turn the heat to high, and add beef with another good sprinkle of salt. Break apart and cook, stirring, until it is completely cooked and the mixture is damp but not watery. Remove from heat. Check for seasoning, you may need to add a little more salt.

Heat oven to 400° Stuff the gourds with the meat mixture and arrange in a casserole dish, with the leftover meat mixture around the gourds. Bake for 20 minutes until the gourds are soft.

Serve hot with naan.