Pavakkai Pitlai or Bitter Gourd in Spiced Coconut gravy

Pavakkai Pitlai or Bitter Gourd in Spiced Coconut gravy

Any Bitter Gourd or Pavakkai crazy fans here? I am certainly for one and have always been so, ever since I was a little child. I believe creating a love affair with a vegetable or dish stems from an early age and depends largely when you have parents who encourage you to try everything. I always pass the credits for inculcating such good habits to both of us siblings, entirely to Appa or Dad. Appa loved shopping for veggies just like me and also helped my mom by chopping them.

Another reason why I love eating all vegetables is the fact that Ma was an excellent cook and basically anything she made, we overate!

Bitter Gourd Pitlai is the quintessential Tam Brahm dish that is much preferred over the vegetable or dry curry option. Basically, this gravy much alike Sambar or Mor Kozhumbu is Coconut based but spiced with a mix of roasted dals or lentils like chana dal, coriander, red chillies for the spice kick and some fenugreek for the digestion and balance the pithas.

Pavakkai Pitlai 2.jpg

The Pavakkai Pitlai also has another version made during Shradhams where the Arhar dal or Tuvar Dal is replaced with Moong, the red chillies in the gravy are omitted and we at home don’t even add the haldi powder or turmeric.

My recipe is the quintessential Tam Brahm version that my mother made. I have added Brown Chickpeas which was my MIL’s style of serving and the husband is quite fond of. The Bitter Gourd or Karela in Hindi, are cooked in soaked and squeezed tamarind water along with salt, hing and turmeric powder which reduces the bitterness to an extent. The coconut, lentil spicy gravy is then added along with cooked Tur dal followed by a pinch of jaggery. Yes, the jaggery is an absolute must to ensure the sourness from the tamarind and the spice from the red chillies are balanced. Also, it helps to kind of control the bitterness to a large extent. I have to admit here, I go slightly overboard with the addition of jaggery and sometimes enjoy this pitlai like Gujarati meethi dal or sweet dal. The grand finale to this gravy is the tempering in coconut oil with curry leaves. Seals the deal!

Pavakkai Pitlai 3.jpg

Leftover Pitlai is something I really look forward to eating with Ven Pongal or Milagu Jeera Adai. They are absolutely to die for combinations and in case you haven’t tried them earlier, please do. So much better than the regular Sambar.

The Pitlai tastes absolutely wonderful with the full kattu sapaadu or the full meals which should have rice and not rotis along with a poriyal. My personal favourites with this is usually the Cabbage Paruppu usili or a Potato Roast along with unlimited papadam and a Thayir Pachadi on the side. A long siesta is a must after such meals to ensure you feel fantastic post nap and are ready to take on the world! Exaggeration ? Nah! Good food always elevates your mood, especially when the food is associated with your tradition and roots.

Let me share something here before you proceed to read the recipe — This is perhaps the only recipe that I had to cook and shoot 3 times. No – There was nothing wrong with the recipe, the photography was simply not to my satisfaction. All the 3 times, I managed to use the same props. This time, again, I am not entirely satisfied as the day i decided to shoot this, it was pouring crazy with a dark gloomy weather. Am I being too hard on myself? Did you guys love the pics? Make me feel better. 

Check out the recipe below and let me know how you liked them.

Recipe for Pavakkai Pitlai or Bitter Gourd in Spiced Coconut Gravy

Prep Time – 20 minutes

Cook Time  30 minutes

Serves 4 nos. 

Ingredients for the Gravy

  1. 1 cup grated Coconut
  2. 1 tblsp chana dal / split Bengal gram
  3. 5 to 6 nos. whole red chillies
  4. ½ tsp of fenugreek seeds or methi dan
  5. 1 tblsp of coriander seeds / dhania
  6. 1 tsp of coconut oil

Method – Gravy

  1. Heat a kadhai and add oil followed by chana dal.
  2. Roast the dal until slightly golden in colour and then add the coriander seeds
  3. Add the whole red chillies, methi dana and stir the mixture till the ingredients are slightly brownish in shade.
  4. Now add the freshly grated coconut and saute well for few seconds (stirring continuously)
  5. Switch off the flame, empty the contents in a mixer grinder jar and allow it to cool before grinding it with little water.

Ingredients for the Bitter Gourd curry

  1. 4 nos Bitter Gourd (deseeded) and chopped
  2. 1 lemon sized tamarind
  3. 1 cup warm water for soaking the tamarind + 4 cups to cook the bitter gourd.
  4. 1 cup cooked and mashed thick Tur dal or Arhar dal
  5. 1 cup cooked Brown Chickpeas
  6. Hing or asafetida a generous pinch
  7. ½ tsp of Haldi or turmeric powder
  8. 2 tsps of Jaggery
  9. Salt as per taste

Ingredients for Tempering

  1. 1 tsp coconut oil
  2. ½ tsp mustard seeds
  3. Few curry leaves

Method to make the final gravy with bitter gourd

  1. Soak the lemon size tamarind ball in 1 cup of warm water for 15 to 2 minutes
  2. Squeeze the tamarind well and extract the juice.
  3. Heat a large pot or vessel, add the chopped bitter gourd and the 4 cups of water.
  4. Add the squeezed tamarind juice along with hing, turmeric and salt.
  5. Allow it to boil and reduce over medium flame for atleast 15 odd minutes or until the raw smell of the tamarind disappears and the bitter gourd cooks well (not mushy)
  6. To this boiling mixture of bitter gourd and tamarind, add the cooked chickpeas followed by the coconut gravy mixture as prepared above.
  7. Mix well and you will see that the gravy has thickened.
  8. Now add the cooked tur dal, check the salt, thickness and allow it to cook well for few minutes.
  9. Add some water if you feel its too thick.
  10. Add the jaggery, mix well once again and switch off the flame to prepare for the tempering.
  11. Add the tempering and serve it hot with steamed rice and a poriyal of your choice.

Recipe Notes –

  1. Pavakkai Pitlai is thick in nature and not flowing like Sambar or watery like Rasam.
  2. Add water wisely to adjust thickness.
  3. Jaggery is a must to cut the bitterness and the sourness from bitter gourd and tamarind respectively.
  4. In case you don’t have grated coconut, add chopped coconut pieces too and it will work. Just grind it well with some warm water.
  5. I use pondy red chillies for making the pitlai. They are the spicy variety which is more my taste and preference.

Vidya Narayan

21 thoughts on “Pavakkai Pitlai or Bitter Gourd in Spiced Coconut gravy

Add yours

  1. Yes, vidya, my mom also made a variant of this dish. Though I never liked bitter gourd before marriage, I have developed a taste for it now, but like it loaded with jaggery. Feel tempted to try this out with your detailed mouth watering description..

    1. Loaded with Jaggery – Deepika, you think just like me. I hope I have tempted you enough to try this out soon. Cheers!

  2. Your photos are excellent! I grew bitter gourd again in the garden this year. I love the aroma the vines give off when you brush your hand against them. Bitter gourd is not my favorite so I don’t use it much, but I did make bitter gourd pickle this year.

    1. Firstly, thank you for assuring me about the photos. Bitter Gourd vines in your garden sounds wonderful and I hope we had a bigger place back in our city to grow fresh produce. The pickle sounds delicious.

    1. Hey Ramya, How are you? Good to hear from you after so long. Thanks a ton and do try this, if you love bitter gourd then you will love this recipe.

    1. This is a most loved recipe with Bitter Gourds by Tam Brahms. I adore bitter gourd in any form and curries are one of them along with piping hot rotis. Thank you so much Rita.

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