Bitter Gourd Curry, Bengal-Style

Indian bitter gourd (Photo by Steve Huang/flickr)

This could be the main dish of a meal, either on its own, or with rice or chapatis. The heat of the mustard (don't overdo it) is toned down by the slight sweetness of the vegetables and a touch of sugar. While it does not include ground spices, the seeds of the panch phora flavour the dish beautifully. There are no precise weights for the vegetables. Use what you can to get in total about 750 g (1 1/2 lb), but proportions are not vital.

Serves 4.


1 or 2 small bitter gourds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 medium-sized sweet potato
1 large potato handful of green or yellow runner beans
medium-sized head of broccoli
(about 2 cups florets)
3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil, or a mixture
1 teaspoon panch phora
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
1 tablespoon sliced fresh chilli (optional)
1 cassia leaf (tej pattar) (optional)
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
2 teaspoons jaggery or brown sugar
1 teaspoon hot English mustard


Slice gourds crossways into slices about 6 mm (1/4 in) thick. Rub 1/2 teaspoon salt and turmeric over the cut surfaces. Peel and dice potatoes. String beans if necessary before cutting into bite-sized pieces. Peel broccoli stem and cut into thick slices. Divide florets, keeping a small stem on each.

In a wok or karahi heat the ghee or oil, then fry bitter gourd slices, turning them from time to time until golden brown on both sides. Remove and drain on paper towels. To oil remaining in wok add panch phora until mustard seeds pop, then add ginger, chilli and cassia leaf and fry, stirring, until ginger is soft. Add the vegetables and fry, stirring, for 5-8 minutes. Add salt, sugar and 1 cup hot water. Cover and cook over low heat until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Softer vegetables that need less time to cook may be added half way through cooking together with the fried bitter gourd. Turn off heat and stir the mustard into the liquid to disperse it evenly, then toss all the vegetables through the sauce. This dish may be prepared ahead and gently reheated for serving.

Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998)