Tangy Bitter gourd curry (Paavakka Varutharachathu) and a round up of Onam Sadya recipes

kaipakka curryHappy Onam to all those who celebrate this festival which celebrates food! Onam sadya (feast) includes an array of delectable, comforting vegetarian dishes made from the choicest and freshest vegetables which include a variety of gourds, pumpkins, green beans, carrots, cabbage as well as starchy vegetables like taro root, elephant’s foot and green plantains.  Coconut is an essential ingredient in almost all the dishes and coconut oil is the main cooking medium imparting so much flavor that you remain licking your fingers! Yes, you have to eat the sadya, which is served on a banana leaf, with your hands to truly savor it.It is an unique gastronomical experience involving all the senses 🙂

We are so fortunate to be able to continue this tradition even in our US home – yes we get frozen plantain leaves from our local Asian grocers and they are of a pretty good quality too! Today I wanted to share this bitter gourd curry which I had been meaning to post for a while. This curry is served for sadya as a ‘thodu curry’ which means kind of like a chutney or pickle to relish on the side.  The bitterness of bitter gourd is tamed by the addition of tamarind and a pinch of jaggery. This time my dad who is visiting us made a version of this curry using kodampuli for me since I am avoiding tamarind. Believe me the curry tasted equally good even with the substitution.

So Happy Onam and Happy Feasting! Scroll below this recipe to see a round of all the sadya recipes that I have posted before.


Tangy Bitter gourd curry (Paavakka Varutharachathu)

  • Servings: Makes about 6-8 servings as a side dish
  • Time: about 40 minutes
  • Difficulty: Moderate
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1medium sized bitter gourd (paavakka or karela) seeds removed and cut into thin rounds(reserve a few slices for garnish)
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp salt

Masala for grinding:
1/2 cup grated coconut (fresh or frozen that has been thawed)
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp red chilli pow
1 tbsp coriander pow

  • 1/2 cup warm water

1/4 med onion sliced thinly
1 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 green chili, chopped
3-4 curry leaves
1 dry red chilli
1/2 tsp salt

Tamarind pulp 2 tbsp (or 2 small pieces of tamarind/kodampuli soaked in 1/4 cup warm water)
1 cup water
1 tbsp jaggery pieces or grated


First cook the paavakka slices in the 1/2 cup water and 1/2 tsp salt for about 3-4 minutes so that they are just partially cooked (You can also cook in the microwave for 2 mins). Discard the water and strain and keep the paavakka slices aside.

Roast coconut for about 10-12 mins on low med heat until light brown – take care not to burn it. Grind this and all the other ingredients under masala into a paste using the 1/2 cup warm water. Keep this aside.

In a medium flat bottomed cooking pot, heat the coconut oil and the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds splutter, lower heat and add the onions, green chili, salt,red chili and curry leaves.  Add the paavakka slices and cook for 3-4 minutes on medium. Salute for another 2-3 minutes or so. Then add the ground paste and again state for another 2 minutes.

Finally add the tamarind pulp (or kodampuli) and jaggery and the extra water. Let simmer so that the jaggery is all dissolved and the curry thickens. Add additional water if needed but curry should be thick. Check for salt and add more if needed.

Lightly Fry the reserved pieces of paavakka in a small pan with little coconut oil and add to the top.

kaipakka curryAnd here’s the round up of all sadya recipes:

Parippu curry (Lentils in coconut milk)

Parippu Curry

Sambhaar (Lentils and vegetable curry)


Avial (Mixed vegetables in coconut sauce)


More Kootan (Yoghurt and coconut curry)

Moru Curry

Mathanga Erishery (Pumpkin and red beans curry)

matanga erissery

Cabbage thoran (Cabbage sautéed in coconut)


Kadala and kaaya thoran(Green plantain and black chickpeas)

Kootu curry (Kadala)

Inji Puli

Pulli Inji

Kumbalanga curry/Olan (Ash gourd in coconut milk)

Kumbalanga curry

Kumbalanga pachadi(Ash gourd in coconut and yoghurt sauce)

kumbalanga pachadi

Paalada Payasam (Rice noodle Pudding)

Paal ada Paayasam

Parippu payasam (Lentil Pudding)

Parippu Paayasam




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