Karela's common name in most countries is bitter gourd. The name Karela was used by Indians, as they also call it bitter melon.
Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The cultivar common to China is 20–30 cm long, oblong with bluntly tapering ends and pale green in color, with a gently undulating, warty surface. The bitter melon more typical of India has a narrower shape with pointed ends, and a surface covered with jagged, triangular "teeth" and ridges. It is green to white in color.
Bitter melon is generally consumed cooked in the green or early yellowing stage. The young shoots and leaves of the bitter melon may also be eaten as greens.
Bitter melon is often used in Chinese cooking for its bitter flavor, typically in stir-fries (often with pork and douchi), soups, and herbal teas. It has also been used in place of hops as the bittering ingredient in some Chinese and Okinawan beers.
It is very popular throughout South Asia. In North Indian cuisine, it is often prepared with potatoes and served with yogurt on the side to offset the bitterness, used in sabzi or stuffed with spices and then cooked in oil. In Southern India, it is used in the dishes thoran/thuvaran (mixed with grated coconut), mezhukkupuratti (stir fried with spices), theeyal (cooked with roasted coconut) and pachadi (which is considered a medicinal food for diabetics).
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