Carailli, also known as cariley, bitter melon or bitter gourd is a vegetable that is widely available at our markets, yet seems to be underutilised by many. Presumable because of its bitter properties and its knobby, knarly outside texture. It’s a wonderful vegetable to get to know better, and there is not groundbreaking science required to cook it. Traditionally it is known to have a very bitter taste but at times the degree of bitterness is less in some. Many cooks like to cut it open, remove the seeds, (which tend to be very hard), slice it thinly and generously sprinkle with salt. The carailli is then left for about 30 minutes, and then squeezed thoroughly to remove all the bitter juices. Rinse well and it is ready to be cooked. However I have found that salting is not always necessary when preparing this delightful vegetable, simply remove the seeds, slice thinly and sauté with lots of onions and garlic for a quick accompaniment to any Indian or creole meal. With respect to health benefits some claim it is a good aid in helping to control diabetes, but it is also a great source of vitamins and minerals.
Sauteed carailli (Bitter melon)
1 lb carailli, cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Seeds removed
4 onions, sliced
1 tomato, chopped
2 pimento peppers, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbs vegetable oil
1/2 hot pepper, optional
Salt carailli. Leave for about 20 minutes then squeeze and rinse under cool water (optional).
Heat oil in sauté pan, add onions, pepper and garlic, sauté until fragrant, add carailli and hot pepper if using.
Cover and cook, adding only a small amount of water to prevent sticking.
Cook until tender about 15 minutes.
Shrimp stuffed carailli with coconut milk and lemongrass
4 large carailli
1 lb shrimp, minced
4 tbs vegetable oil
1 tsp ground roasted cumin (geera)
1 cup coconut milk
3 tbs curry powder
4 cloves garlic
2 tbs chopped chadon beni
1 hot pepper seeded
salt to taste
2 stalks lemon grass, chopped
Slit carailli lengthways, remove seeds, do not cut in half or let knife go right through.
Place garlic, onion, pepper and chadon beni in a blender or food processor and process to a fine consistency.
Bring a pot of water to a boil, drop in carailli and cook for five minutes, remove and drain.
Heat one tbs oil in a sauté pan, add one tbs ground garlic and onion mixture, add cumin, cook until fragrant, add shrimp and cook for five minutes. Remove and season to taste with salt.
Stuff the carailli with the shrimp mixture, tie together with kitchen twine and secure well, set aside.
Heat the remaining oil in a sauté pan, add the lemongrass, and balance of the garlic, onion mixture, add garam masala and curry powder, pour on coconut milk and simmer for 5 minutes, then add carailli and cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Slice and serve as a side dish with other curried dishes.
Serves 6 to 8
Asians love carailli too
On the American food website Serious Eats, food writer Chi Chi Wang has written about the place of the bitter melon in Asian cooking.
She writes, “Many Asian culinary traditions, embrace bitter melon.
The Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, and so forth, counter the bitterness of the fruit with spicy, sweet, or savory components.
“In Indonesia, bitter melon is used in salads, stir-fried, cooked in coconut milk, or steamed. The Vietnamese stuff the melon with ground pork for use in steamed dishes or soup. Thai cooks combine powerful birds eye chilies with the melon, using generous splashes of fish sauce as well. In China, cooks often stir-fry slices of the melon with pungent fermented black beans and ground pork, adding dried red chilies to taste.”
Here’s a carailli recipe by Wang, that can be found on the Serious Eats site.
Stir-fried carailli with ground pork, fermented black beans and fish sauce
Two carailli, preferable riper and slightly yellow
For the ground pork mixture:
1/2 teaspoon ginger, minced
3 ounces ground pork
1 teaspoon rice wine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the sauce:
2 cloves garlic, grated with a
3 tablespoons black beans, smashed
3 dried red chilies, or to taste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
For the cornstarch mixture:
1/4 cup water mixed with
2 teaspoons cornstarch
5 tablespoons oil, for stir-frying
Halve carailli lengthwise and scoop out all the seeds. Cut them into 1/4-inch thick slices and set aside.
Mix the ground pork with the rest of the ingredients in the mixture and set aside in a bowl.
Mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl and set aside. Combine the water and cornstarch in another small bowl and set aside.
Heat the wok over high heat again. Add the rest of the oil and the slices of bitter melon to the wok.
Stir-fry over high heat for 5 to 7 minutes, until the melon is considerably softened but still a bit crisp. Add the sauce mixture and mix with the melon, stir-frying for an additional minute.
Turn off the heat and add the cornstarch mixture to the wok.
Stir around rapidly to prevent the cornstarch from clumping.
Add a few tablespoons more water to the wok if needed to thin out the sauce.
Turn the heat on to low and simmer the mixture for 20 seconds.
Reintroduce the pork mixture to the dish and stir around to incorporate.