Have you ever been just a little bit curious about what all those rather unusual looking vegetables might actually taste like, when browsing around an Asian food market. Well I certainly have. I’ve been thinking…..we’ve had the ‘slow food movement’, ‘organic food movement’, perhaps now’s the time of the ‘obscure vegetable movement’. Maybe they need a voice, just like the potato did when we all gave them a chance when Sir Walter Raleigh returned with them after his voyage to the Americas, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Perhaps carrots, broccoli, peas, onions, leeks and potatoes need to be knocked off their pedestal of most well loved and consumed vegetables.
One such vegetable, which I discovered not too long ago, is karela, also known as bitter melon/gourd. It’s completely ubiquitous in the tropics mind you, just a little bit unusual over here in your average food market – unless it’s an Asian one. Its not a pretty vegetable in the slightest. Warty, green and up to eight inches long it looks slightly like a cucumber, but less appealing.
It has a really bitter taste, but it is so different from anything I have ever eaten that I actually like the vegetable. It has the same divided opinion as marmite does in the UK. You either love it or hate, nothing in between.
Karela is actually very versatile, but I like to cut it width ways into thin slices and then slowly fry them in a pan until they begin to brown and then turn them over until they brown that side as well. After patting them with kitchen paper I then sprinkle some salt over them and eat them as a snack, or with rice and dahl.
As an alternative you can sprinkle the raw slices with salt and turmeric and then fry them. You can then stop there and eat them or if you feel the need for spice with a kick follow the next step………..
Put a tbsp of oil in a pan and when hot add a pinch of asafoetida, which is also known as ‘Devils Dung Stinking Gum’ – how cool is that? 1-2 dried red chilli and 1 tsp of mustard powder. Stir for a minute and pour over the karela. Delicious and definitely packs a punch.
High in iron, it also has a wide range of medicinal qualities and is purported to be the best herbal medicine for liver problems, aid people with psoriasis and diabetes. Curious…………go on give them a try, but be open minded! They are easy to find at any Asian food store, you just won’t be finding them at Tesco quite yet.