Recipe: Caraili (Bitter Melon) With Kalonji (Onion) Seeds

Caraili, a type of bitter melon, is a standard vegetable in East Indian and Chinese diets. There are two varieties. One is light green and resembles a knobby-skinned cucumber, while the other is darker green and very gnarly in appearance. If you like collard greens, escarole or other bitter vegetables, you'll find caraili appealing as well. It is readily available in Asian and Middle Eastern markets and sometimes makes an appearance in the tropical produce section of larger grocery stores. Although you could substitute zucchini in this dish, the characteristic bitter flavor would be missing. The recipe is adapted from my book Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad & Tobago (Hippocrene 2010).

Recipe: Caraili (Bitter Melon) With Kalonji (Onion) Seeds i i
Jean Paul Vellotti for NPR
Recipe: Caraili (Bitter Melon) With Kalonji (Onion) Seeds
Jean Paul Vellotti for NPR

Makes 4 servings

3 caraili

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon kalonji seeds (available in Indian or Middle Eastern Markets)

1/4 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt, or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the caraili by trimming the stem ends and slicing them lengthwise. If there are large, visible seeds, use a small teaspoon to scrape down the middle of the caraili to remove them. Discard the seeds and slice each half of the caraili into 1/4-inch slices. They will look like half moons.

Heat the oil in a wok or large, wide frying pan. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the garlic, frying until golden brown, about 30 seconds.

Add the kalonji seeds and fry until they begin to pop, about 15 seconds. Add the caraili and stir well, frying for 1 to 2 minutes, or until they begin to brown.

Stir in the salt and black pepper, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the caraili are soft, about 15 minutes. Serve with rice or flat bread such as pita or roti.

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