We Kannadigas are ardent "gojju" experts.
"Gojju" is a difficult word to translate because it's actually an entire universe where hundreds of recipes have lived and flourished for centuries and the only thing in common between them is a spicy, usually sour thick gravy. (Some linguistics suggest that this word existed over 2 milleniums ago and then it meant a "mess of boiled fruit". Well, in Karnataka, we make a delicious mess...er, I mean gojju of even pineapple!)
Of all the gojjus that regularly appear in the Rajaiah dining table, this sweet and sour one made with karela (bitter gourd in English, haggalkai in Kannada) is an all time favourite.Roasting the karela before making it into the gojju gives it a very subtle but very delicious smokiness.
Karela - along with many other healthy-but-yucky vegetables like lauki, tinda etc - is much reviled. But cooked right, it can be unusually delicious.
Did anyone ask - how healthy? Well, the bitter gourd is bitter for a very good reason – it is signal of the presence of phytochemicals, a very important group of disease-fighting plant chemicals currently hailed by an ecstatic nutrition-medical community in the West as the supernovas of healthy eating because of the immense arsenal that they pack to both prevent and fight against an awesome gamut of diseases – diabetes, cardiovascular disease, several common cancers.
It is also used by many ancient systems of medicine - including Ayurveda - to help treat diabetes.
So, onwards karela gojju! Enjoy!
¼ kg karela (remove centre of seeds etc thoroughly and diced into small pieces)
Tamarind, the size of a small lemon (soak in hot water for about 10 mins n extract thick juice)
½ cup jaggery (adjust to taste)
2-3 spoonfuls of sambar powder
Salt to taste
The quantities of tamarind and the jaggery given above are approximations because it all depends on how bitter the karela, how sour the tamarind and how sweet or sour you like your gojju . So, as they say on MasterChef - taste, taste, taste and adjust!)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 dried red chili broken
¾ teaspoon mustard seeds
Few pinches of asafetida
7-10 curry leaves
Roast the karela pieces in a heavy-bottomed pan over a slow fire till the pieces r soft n have a roasted char at the edges. In a separate pan, heat the oil, add mustard seeds n red chili. When the seeds start spluttering, add the asafetida, curry leaves. Now add the karela pieces and sauté for a few minutes. Then add about ½ a cup of water, bring to boil n then simmer till the karela is almost cooked. Now add salt, ¾ of the tamarind extract and the jaggery. Simmer till the jaggery has completely melted, then taste and adjust for salt sweet and sour. Now simmer some more till the gravy gets a thick, glossy texture (You can add more water if you like.) The longer you simmer, the better the taste. Now taste again and adjust.
Remove from heat and serve with rice/chapatti, even bread. I often use it as a sauce, adding it to puffed rice, chiwda or just to a bowl of curd and using that as a dip with poppadoms or chips!
This gojju keeps in the fridge for about 5-6 days if you store it in a clean jar after it is thoroughly cooled.