Pavakkai Pitla is a recipe of yore from Tamilnadu, a brilliant dish made using bitter gourd. It is a kind of sambar made using a freshly ground spice mix. With a hint of sweetness, the sourness and slight spiciness that is characteristic of sambar, this fragrant Pavakkai Pitla is a treat for sure. This delish confection is a wonderful way to consume the very nutritious bitter gourd – whether one likes the veggie or not, I’m sure this will win hearts. It’s a big favourite at home, making for a blissful meal with some rice and ghee or sesame oil (nalla ennai in Tamil).
A closer look at Pavakkai Pitla
This dish is made using bitter gourd, like I was saying earlier, called ‘Parikkai‘ or ‘Pavakkai‘ in Tamil. It is made with a spice mix consisting of ingredients like coconut, dry red chillies and some lentils, which adds a wonderful flavour to the dish.
There’s tamarind in there, too, like in case of a regular sambar. The tamarind is slightly on the higher side in a Pavakkai Pitla, to even out the bitterness of the gourds. There is a bit of jaggery used in the Pitla too, for the same reason. In fact, there’s hardly any bitterness in the Pavakkai Pitla – if the bitterness of the gourds puts you off, this Pitla is something you must definitely try out.
As in a usual sambar, toor dal goes into this Pitla too. Traditionally, the Pitla is made using small brown chickpeas (aka kala chana), in the absence of which peanuts can be used too.I’m not sure why this is called Pitla, but that’s how it is referred to in Tamilian households. This is not to be confused with the Maharashtrian Pitla – that’s a completely different.
How to make Pavakkai Pitla
Here is how we go about it.
Ingredients (serves 4):
- 4 small bitter gourds
- 3/4 cup toor dal
- 1/4 cup peanuts
- A big lemon-sized ball of tamarind
- 1/2 tablespoon oil
- 3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 2 pinches of asafoetida
- 1 sprig fresh curry leaves
- 1 tablespoon jaggery powder or to taste
For the spice mix:
- 1/2 teaspoon oil
- 2 tablespoons chana dal
- 4-5 dry red chillies
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 1/4 cup fresh coconut, grated or pieces
1. Wash the toor dal well under running water. Drain out the water.
2. Transfer the washed and drained toor dal to a wide vessel. Add in enough fresh water to cover the toor dal completely. Take the peanuts in a small cup and add in a tablespoon of water, placing it within the wide vessel. Place the vessel in the pressure cooker. Pressure cook for 7-8 whistles on high flame or till the toor dal is fully cooked. Let the pressure release naturally.
3. Soak the tamarind in a little boiling water for 10-15 minutes, for it to soften. Let it cool down a bit.
4. Remove the tops and ends of the bitter gourd. Scrape out all the seeds. There is no need to peel the bitter gourd.
5. Now, chop the scraped bitter gourd into small pieces. Keep ready.
6. Put together the ingredients needed for the spice mix. We will now roast these ingredients.
7. Heat 1/2 teaspoon oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the chana dal, dry red chillies and coriander seeds. Turn the flame down to medium. Roast these ingredients on medium flame for about 2 minutes or till they start turning brown. Take care to ensure that the ingredients do not burn.
8. When the chana dal has browned, transfer the roasted ingredients to a plate. Add the coconut to the plate too. Allow the roasted ingredients to cool down fully.
9. When the tamarind has cooled down completely, extract all the juice from it. Add fresh water little by little, to help with the process of extraction. I had about 1 cup of semi-thick tamarind extract. Keep it ready.
10. When the pressure from the cooker has gone down completely, get the cooked toor dal out. Mash the toor dal well. Keep the cooked peanuts ready.
11. When the ingredients we roasted for the spice mix have cooled down, transfer them to a small mixer jar. Grind to a smooth paste, using a little water.
12. Now, we will begin to make the Pavakkai Pitla. Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in the same pan we used earlier. Add in the mustard seeds, and allow them to sputter. Add in the asafoetida and curry leaves, and allow them to stay in for a couple of seconds.
13. Add the chopped bitter gourd to the pan. Saute for a minute. Now, add in the turmeric powder and a little salt and water to the pan. Mix well. Cook covered on medium flame for 4-5 minutes or till the bitter gourd is cooked through.
14. Now, add the cooked peanuts and the tamarind extract to the pan. Mix well. Cook on medium flame for 2-3 minutes or till the raw smell of the tamarind is completely gone.
15. Add the cooked toor dal to the pan, along with about 3/4 cup water to adjust consistency.
16. Also add in the spice paste we ground earlier. Mix well.
17. Add in salt to taste and the jaggery powder. Mix well. Cook on medium flame for 5-6 minutes for the mixture to thicken and come together to a smooth consistency. You may add in more water if the consistency is too thick. That’s it – your Pavakkai Pitla is ready! Serve hot or warm with steamed rice.
Is this Pavakkai Pitla vegan and gluten-free?
This Pavakkai Pitla recipe is completely vegetarian and vegan, suited to those following a plant-based diet.
If you want to make it gluten-free, simply skip the asafoetida used in the tempering. Most Indian brands of asafoetida contain wheat flour to a lesser or greater extent and are, hence, best avoided when one is following a gluten-free diet. However, if you can find 100% gluten-free asafoetida, you could definitely go ahead and use it.
Tips & Tricks
1. I have used 4 small bitter gourds here – not the baby ones, but the small variety as shown in the picture above. If you find only the larger variety, you can use 1 medium-sized bitter gourd instead.
2. I have used a mix of the spicy Salem Gundu and the milder Bydagi dry red chillies, in the spice mix. You can adjust the proportion of these chillies – and their quantity – depending upon how hot you want the Pavakkai Pitla to be.
3. Adjust the quantity of jaggery as per personal taste preferences.
4. Adjust the quantity of water you use, depending upon how thick you want the Pavakkai Pitla to be. Typically, it is slightly thicker than a regular sambar – quite runny but not watery.
5. If there are seeds and/or impurities in the tamarind, make sure they are removed before using the extract.
6. Sesame oil or coconut oil goes best in this Pavakkai Pitla.
7. Traditionally, small brown chickpeas aka kala chana are used in this Pavakkai Pitla, along with the bitter gourd. Soak 1/4 cup of these chickpeas for 8-10 hours or overnight, then pressure cook them in enough water till done, and add them in while adding the tamarind extract. Here, I have substituted the brown chickpeas with regular peanuts, as I had not soaked the former.
8. Pavakkai Pitla typically has a bit more tamarind and jaggery than the regular sambar, to even out the bitterness of the gourds.
9. Make sure the toor dal is well cooked, soft and mushy before using it in the Pavakkai Pitla.
10. Make sure the ingredients for the spice mix do not burn while roasting. This might alter the taste of the Pavakkai Pitla.
11. Don’t be intimated if the proceedure seems too long to you. It’s a fairly simple method. I have tried to write down the proceedure in elaborate detail so as to make the cooking easier for my readers and to get perfect results.
Did you like the recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!