The inspiration for this recipe came from one of my students who was presenting a lecture demonstration on a diet for diabetics using bitter gourd. Bitter gourd is popularly known to be good for diabetes (it isn’t!) which is why she used it, but she sprinkled sugar all over it! I pointed out that this would not be suitable for diabetics to which she responded cheerfully that bitter gourd by itself is, well, bitter, and the sugar would make it palatable. I had to lower her marks as she had missed the point totally, but I came up with an interesting idea for a Sweet and Sour Bitter Gourd Curry.
Bitter gourd is a vegetable which, in spite of its bitterness, is cooked in different ways and served almost every week in Tamil Nadu because it is widely believed that it lowers the blood sugar level. I do not consider this to be true because I’ve always found holes in research which claimed this effect. My mother used to make this very simple preparation but not very often because of the labour involved in removing the seeds from the small bitter gourd, which was the only variety available then. Now that the larger variety is available throughout the year, it has become much quicker to make this poriyal.
This recipe, created by my mother, counters the primary objection to bitter gourd – that it is bitter. The bitterness of the gourd is offset by the sweetness of the potato and coconut, resulting in a delicious combination of subtle flavours. It was always prepared as a side dish and was wildly popular in my family. I still remember my cousin visiting us when were children and eating the entire bowl of chips while he was playing carom with us. My mother felt highly complimented, not only because her preparation was such a hit, but also because he was my father’s sister’s son and my mother had been engaged in a long-term culinary contest with her sister-in-law 🙂
In India it is believed that eating bitter gourd will cure a person of the metabolic disorder diabetes mellitus. Many native medicine books claim the beneficial effects of bitter gourd. This has not been validated by properly tested methods, but still it is eaten widely hoping that it will effect some magic cure. When my mother made this preparation I was not very fond of it, but later on I devised a method of reducing the bitterness without losing the very small amount of nutrients that are present in it. The addition of sugar towards the end to give a glaze transports this dish to higher levels.