Recipe | Bitter Gourd and Chickpea Pitlai – Embracing the Beautiful Cultural Diversity
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.
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.
The official photographers from the magazine could not resist taking pictures of my boards and props in my make shift studio at home.
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.
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;
- 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
- 2 tsp. Bengal gram (channa daal)
- 2 tsp. coriander seeds
- 1 tsp. black gram (urad daal)
- 10-12 black peppercorn
- 1 dry red chilly
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Add 1-2 tbsp. of grated coconut when grinding the ingredients listed above to increase the taste of the recipe.
- Adjust the consistency of Pitlai by adding more water in the recipe.
- Increase or decrease the amount of water as per your requirement.
- Make extra spice powder (to grind list) and store the same in an air-tight container, it stays good for many days.
- Roast the ingredients listed in the ‘to grind’ list for better flavors and aroma in the recipe.
- A used small variety of bitter gourd for this recipe. You can use one large bitter gourd for the same.
- Vegetables such as Brinjal, pumpkin, ash gourd can be used to in the same recipe make different versions of Pitlai.