The bitter gourd and its uses in the kitchen – Italian Cuisine

The bitter gourd, or karela, is a superfood fruit of Asian origin, perfect for preparing original oriental recipes

There bitter gourd in appearance it may recall a cucumber with a lumpy skin, but it is actually a cucumber that has only the shape and texture. Rich in water and with a decidedly bitter taste, this fruit requires special preparation in the kitchen. Born in India and introduced in China in the 14th century, bitter gourd is widely used in the kitchens of East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Although in every country there is a wide variety of cooking, preparations and combinations and it is called by a different name (among which the most famous is the Indian karela), this particular pumpkin is especially known worldwide for its extraordinary beneficial properties. Let's go and discover its characteristics and possible uses in the kitchen, in order to create exotic and nutrient-rich dishes.

Characteristics and properties of the bitter gourd

This fruit, which grows on the tropical and subtropical plant called ampalaya, is widely cultivated in Asia and Africa and, more recently, also in other countries of the world, including Italy. Its varieties are many and, although similar in shape, they differ in size, color and bitterness, while the flavor is always the same and can be considered somewhere between a pumpkin and a courgette. As we have seen, the bitter gourd stands out above all for its beneficial effect: it is in fact one valuable source of vitamins (especially A, B, C), fiber, mineral salts, iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and beta carotene. According to some studies, one of the substances contained in it, the P-polypeptide, would have effects on the body similar to those of insulin: that is, it would be able to regulate the level of sugar in the blood, constituting a potential remedy for the sick type 2 diabetes. According to other studies, karela juice would also help counteract certain types of cancer, stomach problems and psoriasis.

Possible uses in the kitchen and ideas for an oriental recipe

First of all, it must be said that bitter gourd can be eaten both raw and cooked and that, whatever the preparation you prefer, it is good to know what precautions and combinations are able to dampen or balance its bitterness. The pumpkin should be consumed before it is fully ripe and it is advisable to slice it in two lengthwise and, with a spoon, remove the spongy heart (the most bitter part) and the seeds. At this point you can, if necessary, immerse the fruit in salted water, for about an hour or overnight. Beyond any steps to mitigate its bitter taste and excess liquid, the fruit, given its characteristics, it goes very well with fatty, spicy or spicy foods and ingredients, such as curry, cumin, yogurt, pork and spicy red chilli. Karela, in Asian cuisines, mostly comes stewed or fried and it can be cooked stuffed, stir-fried with other vegetables, act as an accompaniment to other dishes or be one of the main ingredients of soups and main courses. In each Asian country bitter gourd is used differently; in India it is generally cooked in a pan with various spices, onion, chilli pepper, grated coconut, in China paired with pork or fermented black soy beans, while in the Philippines is one of the ingredients of pinakbet, the traditional dish made of mixed vegetables steamed in a fish or shrimp sauce.

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