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Recipe | Bitter Gourd and Chickpea Pitlai – Embracing the Beautiful Cultural Diversity

26 August 2013 12 Comments


Living in two different cultures has more benefits than challenges, well, at least to me. I was born and brought up in Rajasthan and moved to Chennai after marriage. I did not anticipate the vast differences in food preference, rituals, languages and the climatic conditions between both the cities. But fortunately for me, except for the common language of communication (Tamil), my transition from one culture to other was seamless.

And yes, the barrier of language was broken long back. I can now converse in local languages (Tamil and Telugu) without getting conscious of my accents or worrying about grammatical mistakes 🙂

The smells, behaviours and rituals of both the cities lingers on…. and I completely enjoy my life, immersed in this alluring cultural diversity. If lunches are reserved for South Indian meals then the day ends with a hearty North Indian treat at home.

Be it Sundakkai curry (Turkey berry) or Gunda berry pickle, Sambhar rice or one-pot Daal Dhokli, crispy Dosas or filling  Methi Theplas, spicy Sambhar or Panchmel Daal, healthy Ragi Kanji or Cornmeal porridge….my family loves to indulge in diverse cuisine from both the cities in the same breath.

Recipe | Bitter Gourd and Chickpea Curry Aka Pitlai

As featured in a local magazine – Kungumam Thozhi.

I was interviewed recently by a regional magazine about my transition from a food blogger to a food stylist. A three page write up about me and my work in food blogging world is certainly one of the most precious gifts I could ever get in life!

I feel really grateful and humbled for everything that is happening around me.

Recipe | Bitter Gourd and Chickpea Curry Aka Pitlai

The official photographers from the magazine could not resist taking pictures of my boards and props in my make shift studio at home.

Recipe | Bitter Gourd and Chickpea Curry Aka Pitlai

I can speak and understand Tamil to great extent but could not read the script.

I cannot not read what is written about me in the magazine, but the happy faces of everyone at home (who can read Tamil) says it all.

Recipe | Bitter Gourd and Chickpea Curry Aka Pitlai

Coming back to the recipe, Bittergourd Pitlai is a traditional recipe from Palakkad region of Tamil Nadu in India. My neighblour ‘R’ who is a Palakkad Iyer, prepares this quite often and never forgets to send some to me.

I always used to make dried curries or stuffed recipes with bitter-gourd until I was introduced with South Indian cuisine by my MIL. I find the process of grating, roasting and grinding the spices and coconut a tad bit extra work, but the effort is certainly worth every bite.

Traditionally the recipe is prepared by grinding fresh coconut with spices and boiled with the vegetable for a few minutes to get a thick saucy consistency. I am a sucker for easy, fuss-free recipes where I don’t need to roast or grind any powder for my cooking.

Coconut gives an extra flavor and texture to the Pitlai, but at times I like my simpler and quicker version of the recipe. I avoid the tedious process of grating and grinding the coconut, saves me time and I do like this coconut free version of Pitlai as well.

If you wish to make the authentic Pitlai recipe, try this recipe here;

Recipe | Bitter Gourd and Chickpea Curry Aka Pitlai


(serve 3)

  • 1 cup sliced Bitter gourd (karela)
  • 1/4 cup Chickpeas (channa)
  • Marble sized tamarind
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. jaggery/sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 2 cups plain water
  • A pinch of asafoetida
  • Salt as desired
  • Curry leaves

To Grind;

  • 2 tsp. Bengal gram (channa daal)
  • 2 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. black gram (urad daal)
  • 10-12 black peppercorn
  • 1 dry red chilly

Recipe | Bitter Gourd and Chickpea Curry Aka Pitlai

Method; Wash and soak the chickpeas overnight. You can also soak the chickpeas in warm water the same day for about 2-3 hours and cook them in a pressure cooker for 3-4 whistles. I use the hard and chewy chickpeas in my dish.

Soak tamarind in two cups of warm water and leave it aside.

Wash and slice bitter gourd into small pieces.

Recipe | Bitter Gourd and Chickpea Curry Aka Pitlai

Dry roast all the ingredients in the ‘to grind’ list for a few minutes in a pan. Cool the ingredients slightly and grind them into powder.

Recipe | Bitter Gourd and Chickpea Curry Aka Pitlai

Mash the soaked tamarind in the warm water to get 2 cups of tamarind water. Discard the squeezed out tamarind pieces.

Add bitter gourd pieces, soaked chickpeas, asafetida powder, salt and turmeric powder in the tamarind water. Bring the tamarind water to boil and let it simmer till the veggies are soft, will take about 10-15 minutes.

Add ground (masala) powder in the simmering tamarind water, jaggery or sugar and take off the flame.

Recipe | Bitter Gourd and Chickpea Curry Aka Pitlai

Heat a wok and crackle mustard seeds. Add curry leaves and pour the tempering in the Pitlai and cover it with a lid.

Serve this delicious hot Pitlai with plain rice.

For further information regarding the names of vegetables/spices in Hindi or English check Glossary.

Recipe | Bitter Gourd and Chickpea Curry Aka Pitlai

I like this almost soupy version of coconut free Bitter gourd Pitlai, of course there is a difference in the taste as compared to the authentic recipe.

But this easy, simple and quick version is my way to make sure that I don’t slog out for long in my kitchen or miss out on family fun.


  1. Add 1-2 tbsp. of grated coconut when grinding the ingredients listed above to increase the taste of the recipe.
  2. Adjust the consistency of Pitlai by adding more water in the recipe.
  3. Increase or decrease the amount of water as per your requirement.
  4. Make extra spice powder (to grind list) and store the same in an air-tight container, it stays good for many days.
  5. Roast the ingredients listed in the ‘to grind’ list for better flavors and aroma in the recipe.
  6. A used small variety of bitter gourd for this recipe. You can use one large bitter gourd for the same.
  7. Vegetables such as Brinjal, pumpkin, ash gourd can be used to in the same recipe make different versions of Pitlai.



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  • Rekha K said:

    Sounds like a great curry to go with rice, I have a doubt here did you salt bitter gourds before as we do in north indian dry preparations or used them as it is ?

  • sanjeeta kk (author) said:

    @Rekha, You don’t need to salt bitter-gourd in this recipe, as it is simmered in tamarind water for some time which does the trick of removing bitterness from the veggie.

  • veenashankar said:

    looks yum.. Even bitter gourd looks so sweet.. Nice work Sanjeeta.. Congrats on your achievement

  • Anusha said:

    Love that cute mortar pestle. I do make pavakai pitle but sans chickpeas. Combo sounds intriguing to me so will try it out

  • Kiran @ KiranTarun.com said:

    Congrats on the feature!! And look at the glorious board prop collection you have. Amazing 🙂
    Kiran @ KiranTarun.com recently posted..Blueberry Lemon Almond CookiesMy Profile

  • Priya said:

    U rock Sanjeeta, am happy and proud of you.. We dont chickpeas in pitlai but sounds interesting.

  • Deepa said:

    Delicious and very inviting curry. Thanks for showing us how to make it look so tempting. Loved the bitter gourd curry.

  • Habiba said:

    I really enjoy reading stories about “transitions” as I too made a big one (from London to Islamabad, after I got married). The recipe sounds wonderful and the pics are very well-taken too 🙂

  • mjskit said:

    I’ve heard of bitter gourd but have never tried it. Honestly, the name of it kind of scares me. 🙂 I’m not a fan of bitter at all. So is it really bitter? Do your spicy mask any bitterness of the gourd? It sure looks good and of course, I always love your wonderful spices! Your articles looks wonderful! Hopefully you’ve had someone read it to you. I’m sure it’s very flattering. 🙂
    mjskit recently posted..Green Chile Sweet Potato Hash BrownsMy Profile

  • Helene D'souza said:

    Congratulations again to the 3 page feature. Very interesting I wish I could read Telugu. Is the script so very different to Tamil? I can imagine that the transition from Rajasthan to Chennai must have been one adventure. I liked the cream sweets in Pushkar, they are my favorites. Do you have those too in Chennai? I don’t cook much with Karela, not so my veggie, except when I have one growing in the garden. Maybe I should give the bitter gourd another chance with your recipe.
    Helene D’souza recently posted..Mashed Potato KohlrabiMy Profile

  • rit said:

    wonderful reciepe…lookinh very tasty
    it is really hard to make so tasty dish from bitter vegi.
    u done it…

  • mitzi said:

    Sounds very good and helpful. Will try with bitter gourd
    Tried similar dish with mixed veggies and plantain. congratulations on thr article. Good food does not have any barriers.well done.

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