Saturday, July 07, 2007

K is for Karela

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I couldn’t resist the karela. They were in the exotic vegetable pen, the part of the supermarket that looks more like a pet shop than a food counter. Their skins are reptilian, bright green like lizards with long thin bodies that taper off to a thin stalk. Buying them was the easy part. Finding out what to do with them took a fortnight of research. Well I call it research but it consisted of lurking. I waited at the vegetable/pet counter waiting for someone else to buy them. Fifteen minutes passed and the security guard started to glare at me. I tried my luck at the checkout. The shop assistant just laughed when I asked if he had ever eaten one.
On the internet I learnt that the karela is also known as the bitter gourd or bitter melon and is grown across Asia – including India, China and in Africa and the Caribbean.
So my lurking became more persistent. For a week I carried round a mouldy karela in my handbag. My daily commute became an intelligence gathering operation. It enlivened a board meeting, caused a stir at the bus stop and sparked off a lively debate at a health food store. But it was Shuba, a colleague at work, who finally helped me out. She rang her mum who cooks karela for her Dad. Over the phone she relayed complicated instructions about salting, soaking and cooking the karela. I learnt it can be made into a simple curry or stuffed, fried and baked in the oven. I was warned that it was as the name suggests, extremely bitter. On the way home I bought a fresh batch.
The karela requires nothing short of a full spa treatment to get it ready to cook. Skin has to be scraped,seeds removed, salt rubbed in, flesh soaked,then rinsed and squeezed to remove the bitterness. At the end of this process, I split open its middle and scraped out the pith and seeds and stuffed them with a mild lamb curry. I fried them and then baked them in the oven.
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A “bitter gourd face” is a common Chinese phrase for an angry or serious face. When we took a bite of this dish, all of us displayed the bitter gourd face. “That is 0 out of 10.” This was Freddie’s lowest-ever rating. Despite all the kind help and advice I had been given, I had failed to bring out the best in the karela. And no-one was prepared to let me try again.
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THE BITTER GOURD FACE
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7 comments:

  1. Freddie's gourd face just made me laugh outloud, Charlotte. This truly does look like the dinosaur of the vegetable kingdom. With all the steps involved, how did anyone ever discover it was edible?

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  2. I was introduced to the bitter melon by my asian in-laws. I can honestly say it is one of the few foods that I now refuse to eat. They serve it much like you did -- they stuff it with a meat mixture and then it is boiled in a soup. I think you probably did a great job of bringing out the best in that veg. Unfortunately, I think that even at its best it is not so good. Congratulations for trying it out though!

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  3. Congratulations on your trying the bitter melon! I wish I could remember the recipe that my Chinese friend did with bitter melon. It was actually wonderful but even with his lovely preparation it was an acquired taste!

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  4. Oh yeah. Good on Freddie for trying! He's a cute kid. Better luck next time!

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  5. schmoof7:35 PM

    If you fancy trying bitter melon chinese style (and i think its a different vegetable altogher), I have a good recipe... (from Sunflower!)

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  6. It is indeed a foul thing. Though the Chinese insist that it's good for you.

    The only time I have managed to eat it was when an Indian friends cooked it Indian style - and it was heavily spiced and seasoned. Still revolting though.

    Freddie was very brave to try it. Hope it hasn't put him off the Challenge.

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  7. Goya! YUCK!

    They are called goya here in Japan and I was presented with one and a recipe by a staff member when I first arrived. None of the fancy prep to remove bitterness, just slicing thinly and stirfrying it with mayonnaise and something else.

    GROSS.

    I may be a vegeterian, but I HATE bitter food. I refuse to eat Goya and Natto. Just...eeeeuw.

    Good job trying it, though.

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