Mama’s Punjabi Recipes – Karela Phittu (BITTERMELON CHIPS) with or without salt

bitter-gourd-chips-OUTBelow is a reprint of Mama’s Kerela Phittu recipe which brings out the same flavor as the cooked vegetable but is much faster and simpler to cook. It is especially suited for new cooks as it will give them a chance to refine their skills with this vegetable before tackling the other karele recipes. It is reprinted with some additional information and directions.

Although the bharva (masala stuffed) karele with onions is the style most favored by Punjabis, there is another variation that is easier and faster to make and just as tasty. After all, karele are one vegetable you can cook and eat entirely, seeds, peels and all!

Karele originated in India and were carried into China in the 14th century though the Chinese variety is much bigger and not as bitter or tasty as the Indian one. Karele and the bitter juice extracted from the vegetable have many medicinal uses like treating stomach complaints, preventing malaria, reducing blood glucose and fighting cancer due to the antioxidants mostly in the green exterior skin. Some companies even sell gel capsules made of the karela extract and juice which can be bought from nutritional shops.

This recipe will allow you to experience the same bitter taste and also get the plant’s benefits, a lot of which come from the green exterior skin. I have known some people to even eat the leaves of the plant! The beauty of this recipe is that it is made as sliced chips and needs no special cleaning or preparation of the vegetable.

For easier cooking use one medium onion, peeled and sliced instead of the small onions used in other karela recipes. And for those on salt restricted diets, the amchoor (mango powder) and dahin (yogurt) can substitute for the salt flavor.



  • 4 fresh karele.
  • 2 tbsp tael (oil) vegetable or olive
  • ½ cup saadi dahin (plain yogurt)
  • 1 pyaaz (onion), medium
  • Spices (to taste): namak (salt), mirch (red pepper), haldi (turmeric), amchoor (mango powder) and sukha dhania powder (dried coriander seed powder)



  1.Wash the karele well then let them dry well.

2. Peel the onion and then slice finely slice it and keep to the side.

3. Cut off the tips and then slice the karele, but not into very thick slices.

4. Cut the karele in half lengthwise, pick out and discard the tough seeds with a knife and then slice the karele, but not very thick slices.

5. Heat the oil in a karahi (wok) and pour the sliced karele. Stir till brown and then add the spices and try not to let it stick to the wok.

6. Pour in the dahin (yogurt), stir and cover the wok till the karele are dry. Now add the sliced onions and cook for ten minutes until the slices are tender, but don’t let the onions get limp.

7. Serve with hot roti and a little plain dahin which adds to the taste.



Selecting some vegetables like karele (bittermelon) and baingan (eggplant) requires some special skills to find the ones which have the right tenderness. If they are too hard, they won’t cool well and if too tender, then they may be hollow inside and become mushy when cooked.

If the karele are fat, then the seeds inside may be too tough to eat and the flesh won’t take in the flavor. It is best to choose green ones that do not have many yellow spots.
If the karele are slender, chances are that the seeds are not hard to chew. These are just the right kind to cook.


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Shakuntla Malhotra is a skilled cook of Punjabi dishes made in the old-fashioned style that she learnt as a young woman in her ancestral home in Lyallpur, India (since renamed Faisalabad) before it became part of Pakistan after the Partition in 1947. People have often admired her cooking for its simplicity and taste that comes with each mouthful. Even in her late-eighties, she continues to cook daily and agreed to share her delectable Punjabi recipes for future generations.