Pavakka Pitla / Pitlah / Pitlai / Parikka Pitlah / South Indian style Bittergourd Curry in a tamarind-lentil base
Pavakka pitla is a kind of sambar made using bittergourd and peanuts in a fresh ground masala with coconut base. The spices, coconut and tamarind mask the bitterness to a great extent while adding layers of flavour to the dish. The soft cooked peanuts will make this dish endearing to anyone who doesn’t like karela. The same can be made with brinjal pieces instead of bittergourd.
As a kid, I was allowed to pick out the bittergourd slices and eat the peanuts in the sambar alone.
I’ve been growing this variety of baby bitter gourd in my kitchen garden. These are not more than 2 inches long if plucked on time, before they turn mature. I’m often asked how to reduce the bitterness in bitter gourd, ironic as it may sound 🙂
Marinating the sliced bitter gourd in salt for 1-2 hours, rinsing and then using it, reduces the bitterness considerably. Also, soaking the slices in sour buttermilk overnight removes almost all traces of bitterness.
The difference between a pavakka sambar and pitla is the addition of groundnuts and a freshly ground paste using coconut.
Pavakkai Pitla ( Bitter ground in spicy tamarind lentil gravy)
Total time: 45 minutes
Pavakka Pitla - Bittergourd Pitlah
- xbc cup groundnuts raw
- xbe cup tur dal
- 2 tbsps tamarind water soaked in hot (1 cup) for an hour
- 1 tbsp tamarind OR paste
- 1 tsp salt or to taste
For fresh spice paste:
- 3 - 4 chillies broken dry red
- 3 tbsps coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp chana dal
- 1 asafoetida small piece (large pinch sized)
- 1/4 cup coconut desiccated or fresh grated
- 2 tsps coconut oil For tempering :
- 1 1/2 tsps curry leaves seeds sprigmustard
- Preparing spice paste: Roast the spices in 1/4 tsp oil on medium flame until the dal turns golden. Saute the coconut until it is aromatic and light golden in colour. Once cooled, grind the roasted spices, dal and coconut to a fine paste using 1/2 cup water.
- Preparing bitter gourds: Wash and top and tail the bitter gourds. Slice them thinly. If you want, slice lengthwise, scoop out seeds and then slice thinly.
- Cooking lentils, gourd and peanuts: Place the washed our dal in one of the pressure cooker containers with 2 cups water. Place the sliced gourd and peanuts in another container with xbd cup water. You can place the containers one above the other in the pressure cooker, lentils at the bottom and gourd-peanuts on the top, pressure cook for 2 whistles and then on a low flame for 10 minutes OR
- If there is no pressure cooker, cook soaked yellow lentils by boiling in 3 cups water, until soft u2013 approximately 30 minutes. Cook gourd slices and peanuts with xbd cup water, until both are soft u2013 approximately 15 minutes. Keep them aside.
- Preparing tamarind extract: Squeeze tamarind well in soaked water, to obtain two cups of tamarind extract. Drain the extract, keep aside.
- Assembling the pita: Bring the tamarind extract to a simmer in a kadai / wok. Add the ground spice paste to the simmering tamarind extract along with mashed lentils and bittergourd-peanut mix.
- Stir well and bring to a boil.
- For tempering: heat 1 tsp cooking oil, add xbd tsp mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add a sprig of curry leaves and slide the tempering over the pitla. Place a cover on the pitla pan until it is time to serve.
- Serve hot with steaming rice and a dry curry along with some vadams or papad. A good match for pavakka pitla and rice is carrot curry (dry vegetable) / sweet potato curry or any other mildly sweet tasting vegetable to complement the bitter taste of bitter gourd.