Haagalkai Gojju ~ Amma’s recipe

Bitter Gourd in a palate clearing sweet and spicy tamarind gravy – mom’s recipe

Haagalkai Gojju and oil

It was end of the 90’s and the beginning of my hostel days. The very first time that I was on my own, in a place far enough from home and certainly with no access to home food. Home sick I was, like hell. Except, once a month when Amma would come to see me. Religiously, I would look forward to the first week of the month, because I could get to see Amma, spend the special day catching up and end the day co-sleeping, sharing the same hostel bed, chatting away into the wee hours until we fell asleep before she left early the next morning. More anxiously, because she would bring with her my life sustenance stash; a basket full of home made, hand made goodies – an assortment of pickles, preserves, chutney podis (typical South Indian spice mixes), a bottle of ghee and my favorite Haagalkai [ haa gul kaa yee; kannada ] Gojju. A stash which I would guard with my life, eat just enough in a day to ensure that it lasted until her next visit a month later or sometimes, a couple of months later. Knowing that I had home food with me was a great comfort, as it brought life to the hostel food, an otherwise insipid and listless kind of food none needs an elaboration on, I presume.

Haagalkai Gojju on grey side

Bitter Gourd rings

Haagalkai Gojju basket

It is said that distance makes the heart grow fonder. It was always there, but was not until the chapter of my hostel days that I realized just how much of a fondness I had developed for bitter foods and Bitter gourd in particular, probably one, not many can identify with. Bitter gourd was introduced to me much early in life. Growing up in a joint family in my Tatha’s (maternal grandfather) house with a dozen and a half different palates for role models, a picky palate was simply not a choice or at least could not be out rightly flaunted. A liking for Bitter gourd was entirely my choice, however.

Back then, this Gojju was made very often and always in a small brass vessel, food safe alloy lined of course and placed in a wide wicker basket later on. To me, the  thought of Gojju is almost inseparable from the mental picture of Haagalkai Gojju in that brass vessel and wicker basket. Hence this picture, the way I remember it. Fascinating, how some things are etched so clearly in our minds!

Haagalkai Gojju

The more time I spend looking back in time at my grand dad’s orthodox kitchen that I grew up eating from, the more I have begun to realize how deep-rooted South Indian cuisine is into Ayurveda. Traditional food served on a banana leaf had a meaning and purpose for each and every kind of dish as well as appropriate placement for it. That is how food is served even now during marriages or other auspicious ceremonies, only people are disconnected from its significance.

Gojju has a very vital role in the grand scheme of the cuisine. With almost all the tastes sweet, sour, bitter, hot, salty in the right proportions, it has a balancing effect on the system. It is palate clearing, rejuvenates dull taste buds, stimulates the digestive system and aids in increasing the stomach acids in a good way. The more I realize the goodness of our culture and regional cuisines, the more I feel bad on how much we take them for granted, enough to let go of them in search of modern food and new cuisines.

Haagalkai Gojju on grey  Haagalkai Gojju empty bottle

In the modern world, with its modern foods – fast foods, packaged foods, convenience foods etc, which are all about pleasing the taste buds with salty or sweet, bitter is obsolete. Bitter taste has an important place in our overall health. It brings every other taste into perspective, resets the taste buds and helps us appreciate the goodness of sweet in appropriate amounts. Naturally bitter foods like bitter gourd, fenugreek, kale or citron keep cravings in check, are blood purifiers, help the body eliminate toxins, lower blood sugar, are immunity boosting and great for the metabolism.

Many people either hate Bitter Gourd or do not know how to cook it to be palatable. This recipe is a sure opinion changer. I can tell you that.

This is my Amma’s recipe and a cherished, all time family favorite! After a number of unsuccessful tries, I can say this time it came close to 90% of Amma’s Gojju taste. The other 10%, I believe is her magic and love which only her hands can conjure up.

Love or hate, which side are you on with bitter foods? And what does your favorite Bitter Gourd dish taste like?

Haagalkai Gojju – Amma’s recipe

print recipe

Things you’ll need:

4 medium sized bitter gourds / bitter melons
about one big lemon sized tamarind
3 small cubes of jaggery (about 6-7 tbsp crushed)
2-3 tsp Saaru podi
1-1/2 tsp black sesame seeds
salt (about 3 tsp)

for seasoning:

5 tbsp peanut or any neutral oil
6 green chillies, sliced into thin rings (optionally, remove seeds to reduce heat)
2 sprigs of curry leaves, finely torn
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
a big pinch of hing / asafoetida

How it’s done:

Wash Bitter gourd, towel dry, slit into half and scoop out the seeds, trim the ends and chop finely. Discard the seeds or plant them.

Soak tamarind in about 1-1/2 cups of warm water.

Mean while, crush jaggery in a mortar and pestle to a coarse powder
Dry roast black sesame seeds in a skillet or kadai on medium heat until they swell up and begin to splutter. Do not burn. When cooled, crush to a coarse powder in a mortar & pestle.

Heat oil in a kadai or heavy bottomed pan on medium high heat. When oil is hot and shimmering, add mustard seeds. When they begin to splutter, add chopped green chillies and torn curry leaves and sauté until chillies turn white, followed by adding hing and turmeric.
Immediately, drop chopped bitter gourd into the pan and stir fry on medium high heat until wilted and light brown. Do not cover at any point.
Squish the tamarind to a thick pulp. Strain the pulp and pour juices over over the bitter gourd quickly before the steam rises. Add a little more water to the remaining tamarind pulp if needed and repeat to adjust the consistency. Discard the pulp if completely used.
Season with salt and Saaru podi, stir well and gently simmer uncovered until oil leaves the sides and the Gojju has thickened to a semi solid consistency (like chawanprash)  about 15 – 20 mins.
Sprinkle coarsely ground roasted black sesame seeds and crushed jaggery, stir to mix well and switch off once the jaggery melts.
Taste and adjust salt and spices to suit your taste.
Let it cool completely, without cover before storing away in an airtight glass jar. Tastes best the next day after the flavors settle.

Savour it mixed with hot steaming rice and a drizzle of Ghee. Also goes well with Chapathi, Dosa and the like.

Black sesame seeds usually come with a lot of tiny stones. Pick before using.

Saaru Podi can be substituted with homemade or store bought rasam powder or just red chilli powder if you have none of those at hand.

Brown sugar may be used as a substitute for Jaggery, but cannot replace the taste of Jaggery.

When made correctly, the result will be a perfect combination of sweet, salty, hot, sour and bitter without a single trace of bitterness overpowering. If after tasting the next day, if you feel the need for adjusting the taste, place it back in the kadai on heat, adjust seasonings and cook for a few mins on low to fix it.

Stores well up to 3 days at room temperature and up to a week in the refrigerator, it never lasts that long in our house though.

This recipe works equally well with Citron / Naarthangai / Heralekai, another classic bitter fruit.

Bitter Gourd Buying Tips:

Buy smaller light colored bitter gourds that look fresh, shiny and are firm and crisp to the touch with no spikes damaged or bruised. Darker ones are more bitter. Avoid gourds that are tending toward yellow.


Treat yourself to more :

 Just Homemade Recipe Index

49 thoughts on “Haagalkai Gojju ~ Amma’s recipe

  1. Malathy says:

    Chanced upon this recipe since someone gave me organic (home grown) bitter melon. Dish turned out real yum. I am from Karnataka and am constantly looking for recipes that take me back to those nostalgic days. Thanks and I will be back to check out more recipes. Great pictures too.

  2. Manju says:

    But you didn’t remove bitterness from bitter gourd. 1 spoon of salt and turmeric powder in a 1/2 ltr water and soak cut bitter gourd in it for 8-10 minutes.

  3. Namitha Prarap says:

    Namaskara Radhika avrige..
    I am a kannadiga too, residing in Pune currently..
    Just sropped by and loved your writing and the pics and the recipe and the background story!!
    my mom-in-law prepares gojju in a similar way..
    i have tried it once too and we all love it!!
    Will drop by frequently from now on! 🙂

  4. dela says:

    don’t mind but i have a very basic question, since i’m not a kannadiga ( i’v never eaten or seen it but have heard a lot about it ) only married to one and (trying to impress him),
    anyways my question is, do u peel the bitter gourd or not? coz even in the pics and ur first sentence of directions u’v said “wash, dry and split”, so i’m a little confused. i don’t want to get it wrong b’coz i’m planning to surprise him when he gets back from his trip.
    thanks for the recipe though. it looks great, cant wait to try it out.

  5. Saroja Ravi Shankar says:

    Hi, Radhika,
    I am not familiar with Karnataka cusine,thought of trying some. Googled and found you. Tried bitter gourd and my family loved it. Will be trying more of your recipes.

  6. Padma says:

    Am a kannadiga. Am preparing hagalkai gojju today and just put out a search for it. We prepare it just the way you have described. Even the memories match. Felt nostalgic. My family too like it.

  7. apsara says:

    I have been looking for this authentic gojju recipe for a while. I make this with the sesame seeds roasted with dry lentils and red chili and ground into a powder instead of the saru powder. Somehow, I cannot get it to taste like a gojju. Will try your recipe next time. thanks!

  8. jessica@peace-of-pie says:

    I am so thrilled to have come across your blog. The pictures are incredible. I lived in Hyderabad for five months and bitter gourd was the only thing I just absolutely could not eat…everything else I loved! I’d try this recipe though. Looking forward to exploring your past recipes.

  9. Radhika Vasanth says:

    As a child I treated bitter gourd as a plague. But my tastebuds has transformed, thanks to my husband who actually made me eat this vegetable with his signature bittergourd fry recipe.

    Love all your pictures R and the story makes me feel nostalgic.

  10. Shubha says:

    Awesome post Radhika! Just the other day I made pineapple gojju, and hagalkayi gojju with hot rice and ghee is another fav of mine. Never knew the use of black sesame in it, will certainly try your recipe. Thanks for sharing..

  11. Nandita says:

    Haagalkayi gojju is a favorite of mine. But alas only mine. My husband doesn’t like it too much. So what I do is make a batch and stash it in fridge and eat the entire lot all by myself. Your gojju looks way too tempting Radhika. So much that, my mouth is watering despite a heavy dinner 🙂

  12. Kankana says:

    awww such a sweet post Radhika and beautiful memories. I absolutely LOVE the photos, the styling and the shallow depth of field in all the frames. xoxo

  13. Anusha Praveen says:

    I am a kannadiga too and i ve grown up eating hagalkai gojju. I ve always enjoyed this gojju with ghee and rotis. Needless to say, the gojju looks splendidly inviting!!!

  14. Jody and Ken says:

    I’m assuming that bitter gourd is the same as what I find in American grocery stores labeled bitter melon. We only discovered it about six months ago and we love it. The idea of pairing it with tamarind sounds fabulous. Lovely photos, as always. Ken

  15. Shruti@Part time chef says:

    Lovely writing. Its almost like I travelled back into your childhood with you. The addition of black sesame sounds interesting. To be honest, I never really liked bitter gourd, growing up. My mother usually made gojju and ‘sandige’. Now a days I happily eat it. Times have changed and I find myself coaxing my 3 year old to try it:)

    • Radhika @ Just Homemade says:

      Thanks for stopping by Shruti..
      Happy to know. Black sesame seeds are the secret ingredient in this recipe so to say, they add an element of mystery to the taste..
      I’m sure your little one might begin to eat like you did in the future.. 🙂

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