My father taught me how to love korola or the bitter melon pretty early in life. This amazingly bold and super-nutritious vegetable is much loved on the Bengali table, in fact, standing out almost like an oxymoron against the deep Bengali love for sweets. The bitter melon in fact works as an anti-dote against all the ills culled by the deep love of sweets that the Bengali enjoys.
This week has had melancholy strains, Martha our longtime helper is getting ready to leave us. Our rather tightly wound household survives on routine and the thought of change, especially so radical is anything but comforting. The little one is very disappointed, and I know that he will have to learn about these partings eventually. This week is also close to the second year anniversary of Dad’s passing, and it brings with it the same sense of sadness and loss. Food always offers an outlet to celebrate and mesh together memories, it helps me channel remembrances in a positive manner. Food memories that even connected together to bind into my cookbook, that I hope some you will be persuaded to get.
This dish is about as simple as it gets, it is a starter dish that is enjoyed at the beginning of a meal. When my father was posted in Nigeria, I used to visit on summer holidays and my father used to always come home at lunchtime. A long day allowed and almost necessitated a mid-day break in the routine. I remember, my mother getting food ready on the table, snowy white rice, just strained, hot and steaming, sunshine bright lentils, a chorchori and usually chicken or fish. The lunchtime meal, especially if Dad joined us was an unquestionably Bengali meal, leaving time for occasional experimentation in the evenings. No matter how elaborate or simple the meal was, this was a staple that he wanted to have around. If not there, Dad would get into the kitchen and make it himself.
It was a strange and comforting sight, to see Dad in the kitchen, in his office clothes, looking sharp and efficient, wielding a knife and evenly dicing the vegetables, first the bitter melon, then the potatoes and finally the purple and shiny eggplant. He used a spoon to sprinkle some turmeric and salt over the eggplant, and then it was handed over to Bob, our cook to finish off. This recipe will probably be the swan song for this year’s summer offerings and of course, the weather has very loudly proclaimed the arrival of Fall in the Hudson Valley.
A simple everyday stir-fry that uses bitter melon and is a classic starter on the Bengali table.
- 2 small potatoes
- 3 medium sized slender Japanese variety eggplants
- 1 medium sized bitter melon (korola)
- 2 tablespoons oil (preferably mustard oil)
- 1 teaspoon panch phoron (Bengali 5-Spice)
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- Salt to taste
- ½ teaspoon red cayenne pepper
- Dice the eggplants and set aside. Peel the potatoes and dice and set aside (note, if you wish, you can use organic red skinned potatoes and leave the skin on).
- Dice the bitter melon and leave any visible seeds
- Heat the oil on medium heat for about 1 minute and add in the panch phoron (Bengali 5 spice) and wait until the spice crackles.
- Add in the mixed diced vegetables and stir well.
- Shake over the turmeric and the salt and mix well. Cover and cook the mixture for about 5 minutes on low heat, remove the cover and check the mixture for softness. The potatoes should be lightly crisped and soft.
- Stir the cayenne pepper and mix well. Cook for another minute and serve with rice and lentils for a classic Bengali style first course.