paavakkai pitlai- bitter gourd curry in tamarind/lentil gravy


If there is one vegetable that I have hated to eat in childhood, it is the bitter gourd or pavakkai. But it is supposed to have great nutritional benefits. One has to learn to cook it in the proper way with enough spices to mask the bitterness and make it enjoyable.

Here’s a recipe for the south Indian dish “paavakkai pitlai” or a dense saambaar that I learnt from my mother-in-law. She also taught me a funny malayalam rhyme about the bitter gourd which calls it the king of green vegetables “paccha kariyin raja”.

Traditionally, cooked chick peas are added for extra protein and crunch. Here, I have used frozen lima beans which is convenient when you have not planned ahead.

Preparation time: 40 minutes; serves: 4


bitter gourds- 3 small

cooked toor dal (pigeon peas)- 1 cup

tamarind – ball with diameter of a quarter (or paste 1/2 tbsp.)

frozen lima beans- 2 tbsp.

salt- to taste

turmeric powder- a pinch

spices for grinding:

dry red chillies- 2

chana dal- 1 1/2 tbsp.

urad dal- 1 1/2 tbsp.

coriander seeds- 1 tbsp.

asafoetida- 1 bit (or 1/2 tsp. powder)

for tempering:

green chilly- 1

curry leaves- a few

sesame oil- 1 tbsp.

mustard seeds- 1/2 tsp.


* Pressure cook toor dal and mash it well. It is important to the get it to the consistency of a paste.

* Cut bitter gourds lengthwise and de-seed. Chop into small pieces. Also chop green chilly.


* In a tsp. of oil, fry the spices for grinding (chana and urad lentils, coriander, asafoetida, red chilly) till the lentils turn light brown. Use a coffee grinder to make it into a powder.


* In a pan, add sesame oil, mustard seeds, wait till the seeds pop. Add green chilly, bitter gourd, salt and turmeric powder, cover and cook till gourd is tender


* Extract the juice from tamarind  in a cup of warm water. Add the extract/paste to the pan, frozen lima beans along with ground powder and allow to boil. Add mashed toor dal and boil once more.


This is usually served with rice along with a dry curry or appalam/papad. Here is a picture of it on a coaster I crocheted a long time ago 🙂

6 responses to “paavakkai pitlai- bitter gourd curry in tamarind/lentil gravy

  1. Pingback: baked bitter gourd chips (or rather, “better” gourd chips!) | Eating Well Diary·

  2. Pingback: Bittergourd in spicy, tangy gravy (Pavakkai gojju)- Meatless Monday | Eating Well Diary·

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