Pavvakai Pitla, a sambhar made from bitter gourd and freshly ground spices is such a wonderful way to eat bitter gourd (Karela). For those who don’t like bitter gourd, this sambhar can be a good initiation dish!
I had first encountered Pavvakai Pitla long ago at a friend’s house. Her mother is my go to person for Tamil food, every dish she makes is finger licking delicious. Whether it was the bowl of steaming hot rasam or a simple potato fry with rice and sambhar!
Each dish would be so delicious. One day, while we were ready to step out for drinks and dinner, and I had to pick her up, she told me eat this before we go out. I rolled my eyes a little, and then reluctantly had the first bite, the so called reluctance vanished after the first bite though. Soon, I had finished a whole bowl of what she called as pavvakai pitla and steaming hot rice.
The memories and taste of that lingered in my mind for a long time. Then, I ate it again somewhere and knew had to recreate this one in my kitchen. I spoke to my mother in law who is essentially from Andhra but married a Tamilian and does cook some fantastic Tamil food. While she said she did make it, she was never happy with the way it turned out. A couple of calls to various aunts, some recipe book readings, some research on my favourite food blogs on Tamil and Kerala style food and I had a rough recipe jotted down on a paper, hoping that I would recreate the magic of the awesome Pavvakkai Pitla.
I have to admit that I couldn’t get it right the first time, it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t mind-blowing awesome either but a couple of more tries, a few alterations and I think I am super happy with what I have on hand. A bowl of this reminds of the friend and her mom and the meals I have had with them so warmly. Reminds of many a afternoons when I have just landed up their house with an assumption of being fed and have always been satisfied.
Some other South Indian recipes which I have on the blog:
Pavvakai Pitla : Bitter gourd Sambhar with freshly ground spices
- 2 bitter gourd medium, use 4 if using the baby variety
- 1/2 cup toor dal
- 1/4 cup channa boiled black (optional but recommended)
- 1 tbsp tamarind
- 1/2 tbsp jaggery
- to taste salt
To be ground in paste
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp urad dal
- 1.5 tsps channa dal
- 3 - 4 chillies Red
- 1/4 cup coconut (grated)
For the tempering
- 2 tsps ghee (or use oil if you want this vegan)
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp Fenugreek seed
- 1 red chilli
- 2 sprigs curry leaves
- To make the masala - Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan or kadhai. Saute coriander seeds, channa dal, urad dal and red chillies. When the dal is slightly browned, add the coconut and saute till it is toasted and lightly browned . Set aside for cooling. Once cool, grind to a paste adding little water if required. Keep aside.
- Peel the bittergourd lightly to remove the hard crusted skin and cut them into rounds. I use the tender seeds but if the seeds are ripe and hard, I de seed the bitter gourd.
- Take 1 tsp of oil in a pan and fry the bitter gourd slightly for about 4-5 minutes.
- Soak tamarind in 1 cup of warm water, extract its juice and discard the pulp. You can use tamarind paste as well, since all tamarind pastes tend to work differently use equivalent quantity for a gooseberry size tamarind ball.
- Cook the toor dal in a pressure cooker. I let it whistle once and then reduce the flame and let it simmer for 3-4 minutes. If you like, you can add the bitter gourd along with the dal and boil. I like the crunch and I use the fried one without boiling. however, I think in the traditional recipe it is boiled.
- To assemble, Heat 2 tsp of ghee and mustard seeds. When they splutters, add fenugreek seeds, red chilli, asafoetida, curry leaves and saute till they are fragrant and slightly browned. At this point add tamarind extract.
- Bring to a boil and add boiled channa and bitter gourd (if not boiled along with toor dal). Bring to a boil again and add cooked toor dal, masala paste along with half a cup of water.
- Simmer for 4-5 minutes so that the flavours are all absorbed.
- Serve hot with steamed rice, palak stir fry and curd for a delicious, wholesome and satisfying meal.