Stuffed Karela ~ A 100 Year Old Recipe Pictorial

Stuffed Karela (Stuffed Kakarakaya)

Here is an offering, from my mother-in-law, that turns bitter karela into a bewitching morsel. As a new bride, she had learned this recipe from her mother-in-law at Nandyala half a century ago. Now, it’s my turn. I feel extremely privileged to learn first hand and share this centuries-old recipe tradition here on Mahanandi.

The ingredients and the cooking method are exactly as they were in the past. The only thing changed is the stuffing preparation. Earlier, they used to powder the ingredients in a mortar using a pestle. Now I use a Sumeet mixer.

In this recipe, the karela is subjected to steam cooking, stuffing and then sauteeing. The stuffing is ever desirable kobbari-pappula podi. Even children who would otherwise never touch a karela devour these tender karelas with a crisp outer shell and tasty stuffing. Stuffed karelas are excellent as a lunch or supper side dish, accompanied by daal, sambar or curd rice.

Stuffed Karela (Nimpina Kakara)

(Ingredients are for 6 karela. A steam-cooker and a wide, thick-bottomed skillet or pan are needed for preparation.)

Karelas – Young and fresh looking karelas, about hand or palm length are the best ones for this recipe. One or two karelas per person.

Stuffing – for 6 karelas, we need about half cup pappulu (dalia), quarter cup finely chopped dried coconut pieces, 6 Indian variety dried red chillies and half teaspoon each – cumin and salt. Take them in a mixer and grind to fine powder. Keep this stuffing in a cup on the side.

Then, follow the Karela pictorial.

Karela (Kakara Kaya)
Peel the Karela outer ridges lightly. Rinse under water.

Steam-cooked Karelas
Place a steam cooker on the stove-top. Fill the cooker to quarter with water. Add a teaspoon of salt to water. Place the karelas in a steam basket. Cover tightly with lid. Bring the water to boil and steam-cook the karelas to tender. Takes around five minutes. Pay attention to the process and do not overcook the karelas to mush. Remove the basket and let the karelas cool.

Seeds scooped out, steam-cooked karela ready for stuffing
With a sharp knife, cut karela lengthwise, keeping the ends intact like shown in the photo above. Scoop out the seeds and keep them in a cup. Prepare all of them this way and line them up for stuffing.

Karelas filled with stuffing
Fill the karela shell with stuffing. Add about a tablespoon of powder to each one, and spread along the length.

Threading the stuffed karelas
Bring the cut edges together and run a thread around the stuffed karela. Tuck the thread edges underneath a round. Karela will hold the shape and would remain closed during sautéing. There is really no need for tying the knot or needle threading.

Sauteeing the steam-cooked karelas and karela seeds
Place a wide pan on stove-top. Add and heat a tablespoon of peanut oil. Place the stuffed and threaded karelas in a single row. Also, on the sides, add the seeds removed from karelas. On medium-low heat, sauté karelas to golden, turning frequently. Take care not to blacken or burn them. The seeds also get grilled to crisp.

Stuffed Karela (Kakarakaaya) with Crisp and Crunchy Karela Seeds ~ Meal Today
Place the sautéed karelas in a serving dish after removing the thread. Sprinkle few tablespoons of remaining stuffing powder and also roasted karela seeds. Serve warm with rice, daal/sambar or yogurt rice.

© Recipe and Photos Copyright 2009 Indira Singari.
Ask First to reprint.


49 Responses to “Stuffed Karela ~ A 100 Year Old Recipe Pictorial”

  1. Trupti says:

    Wow! What an amazing way of preparing a karela dish. Have never seen or heard about this kind of preparation before. Great one, thanks.

  2. sreelu says:

    Never knew we has to steam karela, lovely presentation Indira

  3. Anu says:

    Fantastic! Have been looking for a stuffed karela recipe that does not call for a gallon of oil for quite some time now. I did not know that the secret was to steam them first.

  4. rashmi says:

    wow… we love karela…. now i have a new cooking method to try…(steaming)
    ur step by step pics helps a lot.. thanks for sharing ur family reciepe….

  5. Kalyani says:

    wow the pictures look great indira …… lovely step by step preparation ….. thanks for sharing ………

  6. Preethi says:

    lovely recipe..looks so good!

  7. srividya says:

    This is my favourite recipe Indira! Also one of my first dishes I had cooked as a kid. Yeah..I stitched the mouth of the karela with needle and thread..and would remove the thread just before serving. The stuffing would be potato filling..tastes real good – the combination of karela and potato! And with a little more oil, I would imagine it to be a fried whole fish. 🙂 Thanks for bringing back my memories! It’s been long since I made it. Time to make it again. 🙂

  8. madhuri says:

    wow indira amazing karelas r my husbands fav!! cant wait to try em…. soon.

  9. madhuri says:

    half cup pappulu (dalia or bhuna chana). what do u mean pappulu? u mean gulla senagapappu? let me know for me to try

  10. Gini says:

    I don’t like bittergourd but the pictures are so tempting. Making the podi sounds the hardest part. Dried coconut is available in Indian stores?

  11. arundati says:

    looks fantastic.

  12. nithya04 says:

    I liked the way you described it – turning karela to a bewitching morsel. Am not a great fan of Karela… but this looks good. I must try this…a very wonderful way of making it.:)

  13. Cilantro says:

    Lovely presentation Indira, It is always good to learn the age old recipes and pass it on to the next generation. I have learned the stuffed karela recipe today thru Mahanandi.

  14. Wow!! looking Yummyy… very nice presentation indira garu.. thank you very much

  15. Parita says:

    thats healthy and delicious dish..nice photos.

  16. Sumitha says:

    Indira, after reading your post, I couldn’t wait to try. I had some fresh karelas at home and I made this recipe for dinner. It was so easy to make and stuffed karelas tasted excellent. Steam cooking really did the trick. Thank you for sharing such wonderful recipe.

  17. Padmaja says:

    Thanks for posting this Indira. Just yesterday, I was searching for a north indian style stuffed kakarakaya recipe with saunf and amchoor. Today you posted this. My mother makes 2 other kinds of stuffing also. One is like dry ulli karam. The other one is like similar to the one you have posted but has dhaniyalu.

    For those of us living in colder climates, stuffed kakarakaya/karela freezes very well. we planted 4 vines of Indian kakarakaya this year, and I will spend much of my free time in Sept. making these (and chips which you posted a long time ago) for the freezer. I’ll also juice some and keep the juice in the freezer to drink during the winter when we don’t get produce like this.

  18. Pavani says:

    Delicious looking karelas. Stuffed karelas are one my favorite, but I dont make them too often because I dont have a good recipe. I can’t complain anymore, your pictorial is going to be so much helpful. Thanks to you and your dear MIL.

  19. Ranjan says:

    Indira, can’t wait to try this receipe. Love karalas but normally take the seeds out and peel them. Are they very bitter with seeds? Love the pictures.

  20. Sangee says:

    Hi Indira,
    The pictorial and the recipe looks awesome. I was searching for something like this from a long time. I have a few Questions. I do not have a steam basket, so can I just pressure cook them? Would it be the same? If yes, then how many whistles should I keep it for and should I add water enough to cover the karela’s or cover them completely? thanks for your ideas!

  21. Nirmala says:

    lovely lovely….I had atn stuffed fried karelas bu the stuffing would be a paste of sambar powder+garlic paste+salt with little oil. We used to make thm with tender small karelas. This prep looks absoultely exciting especially the papalu kobari podi would be perfect here. Would like to have some on its own or with plan rice right away. Thanks to your MIL 🙂

  22. SOWMYA says:

    Oh My Goodness ! I can assess ur patience just with your photographs.. No exaggeration meant. Lovely pics…and very glad to learn a century old recipe …

  23. Kalai says:

    Wow… Another amazing bittergourd recipe!

  24. Ashwini says:

    wow..stuffed bitter gourd looks yum..sure to try it..

  25. Indira, thanks for posting this. I love your recipes. They are so creative! Can’t wait to try this one.

  26. Uma says:

    A must try, the tying with thread is very interesting.

  27. Nabeela says:

    Hi Indira! Remember me? 🙂 I’m so happy to see you still blogging. I haven’t had time to check my favorite food blogs in the past 5-6 months and I’m happy to see old friends still here. 🙂

  28. Aparna says:

    This sounds delicious, Indira. I like karela very much (my husband and daughter don’t) and have never seen it cooked this way. Or ever seen the seeds used.
    Have bookmarked this.

  29. Vandya says:

    Oh I love this one. My granda use to make these for us…I alomst forgot about this recipe. It’s amazing how food connects people and with each recipe you have memories attached.

  30. Madhavi says:

    I had learnt a similar stuffed karela recipe from one of our neighbours, 20 yrs ago! Had been making them frequently, but never steamed before stuffing… This is a nice variation.

  31. Indira says:

    Thank you all for the appreciative comments.

    Sumitha: Happy to read that you tried and liked the recipe. Thanks for the feedback.

    Padmaja: Thanks for sharing your family recipes. Love the ulli kaaram version.

    Ranjan: I also did the peeling and removing the seeds. The seeds taste slightly less bitter and crunchy when toasted. Nice taste. Give it a try. We usually add only white, immature karela seeds and discord the ripe, red colored seeds.

    Hello Sangee: I guess you could do the pressure-cooking thing. But the water seeps into kakara and makes them extremely mushy. You have to squeeze out the water, this in turn changes the texture and taste. It won’t be the same. I recommend Steam basket and it is a good thing to have in the kitchen. If that is not possible, add just enough water to cover the karela, and turn off the cooker at one whistle. Release the steam immediately and slowly to prevent over-cooking. Hope this helps.

    Hi Nabeela: How are you? Missed you, and Trail and Error. Happy to see you back at your new website.

  32. pritya says:

    Indira, liked the pics in their sequence, great to see a lovely old recipe brought to focus in such a lip smacking manner. Congrats!

  33. Barbara says:

    Hello, Indira! I was planning on making another batch of Pappula Podi today. I like to add it to sauteed greens and other vegetables–and I like it with rice and ghee as you suggest.

    And so, I came to Mahanandi and saw that your latest post has you making stuffed kerala–one of my favorite vegetables, by the way–with your “magic powder!” It has to be delicious–I will be making this when next I get my hands on kerala.

    Everyone in my household still calls Pappula Podi “Indira’s Magic Powder,” by the way!

    Thank you for making such wonderful recipes available to everyone!

  34. madhuri says:

    You know what being our 10th year of pelli choopulu aniversary on may 31st , I made my husband’s fav, stuffed karelas and he loved it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Thanks 4 posting.Just wanted to update cooking it.


  35. Suma says:


    I am an ardent follower of your blog and have tried out some of your recipes. I have had very satisfying results so far – thank you! But I tried the stuffed karela recipe last night and felt that it somehow did not come together well. It looked exactly like the pictures posted but some of the filling inside was still in powder form. Is this the way it ought to be or did I go wrong somewhere?

    Hello Suma,
    Thanks for trying out the recipe and for your feedback.
    The filling stays in powder form. That is why we wrap the karela with thread. So that the filling won’t spill on to the skillet. This is the way it is done and there is nothing wrong in your cooking result.

  36. veda says:

    Hi Indira,
    lovely recipe. A new kind of stuffed karela. I should give it a try sometime.

  37. these look mouthwatering! i love karela and your karela recipes in particular so thanks. great step by step photos. to clarify Suma’s comment from above, the filling should remain as a paste even after you saute the karelas, not turn into a paste like filling from the cooking heat? if so, it reminds me a little of having daal podi with rice and sounds great.

    Nithya: It should remain in powder form, and not turn into paste like filling. Yes, like having yummy daal podi with rice.

  38. This is a wonderfully presented side dish, and I really love your pictorial portrayal of the recipe! Great job and lovely website, will be back for more!

  39. manila says:

    Nice pictures. With karelas it is either you like them or you don’t. I used to like them but now I don’t. Very good for diabetics though.

  40. Pavani says:

    Hi Indira, I made this kura last weekend and both my husband and I just loved it. Steaming made the kakarakaya less bitter and the masala made it very special. Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe.

  41. Meghana says:

    Hi Indira, I made this kakarkaya stuffing and pesarpappu yesterday and my husband and myself just loved it. The seeds tasted really good when grilled and it was like a good side dish with perugu annam. :)Keep posting new recipes like this. Thank you.


  42. Me says:

    About the stuffing: Is it raw ingredients ground together? Or should I make it like you have described it here

    I have been following your blog since ’05. I have tried several recipes from your blog and liked them all…and my favorite is stuffed bell peppers

    Hello Me,
    Yes, this recipe would taste even more wonderful with kobbari karam stuffing. Let me know how you like it if you try with kobbari kaaram. Thanks.
    Happy to read that you tried and enjoyed recipes from Mahanandi.

  43. Ani says:

    Thanks a million for taking the time and trouble to share your recipes. I have checked out some of your recipes before, and they are all wonderfully illustrated. Today, I was checking the net for stuffed karela and when I saw a link to Mahanandi, I did not look elsewhere. And it is. In case you have not relaized it, you have developed a trust with many unknown people like me. God bless.

  44. Meena says:

    Hello Indira,
    I tried this recipe today and it turned out superb. My 7 year old, who is extremely picky about food, tried it and loved it. To top that, he has requested me to cook this more often. So, thanks for the wonderful family traditional recipe and God Bless.


  45. Joy says:

    I love your link. Where do I find karellas? I don’t know if I’ve seen these in the store. Do you think they would be at Whole Foods or Wegmans? Also, is there a way I can put your blog on facebook? Thanks.

  46. Rajesh B Ringwala says:


    This is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing such a useful & best method for cooking Karela.
    Our humble salute to your mother-in-law and also Her mother-in-law.
    God bless you.

    Rajesh & Binal

  47. Shazia says:

    Thanks for the recipe and steaming method.

  48. anagha says:

    Fab receipe !!!! Simply loved it.

  49. Villa says:

    The recipe works well, but 1 tbsp of oil is way too little. I had to keep adding more.

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