Bitter melon or pavakka is cooked in a spiced coconut-ty tamarind based sauce to make this thick curry of Pavakka Theeyal which is an integral component of the massive Kerala style festival feast of Sadya.
I only recently started making theeyal myself, even though it is one of my favorite Kerala curries. I always had the misconception that it it pretty complicated with all the careful roasting of coconut to that perfect brown and all that.
Yes, the grated coconut does need to be roasted over medium low heat till it evenly reaches a dark brown shade but not burnt, to form the base sauce of this curry, along with some basic spices and tamarind puree. The vegetables added to this varies from pearl onions in Ulli Theeyal to broad beans in Avarakka Theeyal to this Pavakka or Kaipakka Theeyal.
Theeyal is made in a slightly saucier form when it is the only curry made with rice at home for lunches. But when you make it to serve as part of the Kerala Sadya – the massive vegetarian feast that is cooked and served for Kerala festivals like Onam and Vishu and also for weddings and other celebrations, the theeyal is made a little thicker to be used as a side rather than a main curry that is poured over rice.
Either which way, the whole spicy + sour + creamy combo works really well in this Pavakka Theeyal and is a favorite of mine and many I know!
Pavakka Theeyal - Bitter Melon Curry
To roast and grind to a paste
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil
- ¼ teaspoon mustard seeds
- 7-8 curry leaves
- Soak the tamarind in 1 cup water, squeeze out the pulp. Strain and pour into a deep pan. Repeat with ½ cup water two more times.
- Heat the 1 teaspoon coconut oil and add the bitter melon to it. Sauté till it softens a little. Add the turmeric powder, salt and the tamarind water and bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat till the bitter melon are cooked and soft.
- Meanwhile, roast the coconut along with the red chillies, pearl onions and coriander seeds over low-medium heat till the coconut becomes light brown in color throughout. Keep stirring, as you don’t want part of the coconut burnt and part of it not toasted at all.
- Let it cool and grind to a very fine paste in a food processor or an Indian style mixie, with a little water to help grind better.
- Pour this out to the pan on the stove with the tamarind and bitter melon
- Mix well and let it come to a boil.
- Heat the coconut oil for tempering, add the mustard seeds and let it splutter. Add curry leaves and pour it over the curry.
- Serve hot with rice.