Pagarkaai Pitlai Recipe | Bitter Gourd Pitlai Recipe

There are some dishes that we hate as kids. When you start developing a taste for them, it is a clear indication that you have grown up 🙂 Often this happens with the traditional dishes liked by many elders of the family. Pitlai is one of this kind for me.

My mom prepares delicious brinjal and bitter gourd pitlai which my dad loves a lot. When I was younger I hated even the smell of pitlai. But now this has become one of my personal favourites. This is a wonderful combination of bitter gourd, toor dal, black chana, tamarind and freshly ground spices. The spices are roasted before grinding so that it brings out the flavor of the spices even more. The perfectly cooked chana which pops up here and there makes it really enjoyable. This traditional south indian preparation is a must-try recipe which pairs up well with steamed rice. Try it out and let me know how it turned out for you.


Bitter Gourd is also known as Bitter Melon, Bitter Squash, Balsam-Pear, Goya or Karela.

Cuisine : Indian – Tamilnadu
Category : Curries for Rice
Serves : 3

Preparation Time : 10 min (Soaking time for chana – 8 hrs)
Cooking Time : 20 min (Excluding the cooking time for toor dal & chana)


Fry coriander seeds, red chillies, chana dal, urad dal, pepper in a tsp of oil & grind to a paste with grated coconut → Heat oil in a pan & add mustard, curry leaves → Pour tamarind extract & add turmeric powder, salt  → Boil till the raw smell of tamarind disappears → Add bitter gourd pieces & cook till soft → Add cooked toor dal, jaggery (optional), ground paste & boiled black chana → Boil till the curry becomes thick & serve.



  • 2 medium size Bitter Gourd
  • 1/2 cup Toor Dal
  • A handful of Black Chana (Kabuli Chana)
  • A small lemon size Tamarind
  • 1/4 tsp Turmeric Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Mustard
  • A sprig of Curry Leaves
  • A small piece of Jaggery (optional)
  • Salt as required
  • 2 tsp Oil

  To roast & grind:

  • 1 tbsp Coriander Seeds
  • 4 Red Chillies
  • 2 tsp Chana Dal (Kadalai Paruppu)
  • 1 tsp Urad Dal
  • 1/4 tsp Pepper Corns
  • 3 tbsp Grated Coconut
  • 1 tsp Oil

1. Soak black chana overnight and pressure cook till soft.
2. Pressure toor dal till soft and mash it well.
3. Soak tamarind in water and extract the juice.
4. Cut the bitter gourd into rounds. Remove the seeds if they are not tender. Sprinkle some salt over it and keep it aside for 15-20 min. Remove the oozed out water and take the bitter gourd alone. This procedure is to remove the bitterness of it to an extent. I like the bitterness of this vegetable. So I don’t follow this step.
5. Heat 1 tsp oil and roast all the items under ‘To roast & grind’ except grated coconut. Fry till brown and grind to a fine paste with fresh grated coconut.
6. Heat oil in a pan. Add the mustard and wait till it splutters. Add the curry leaves.
7. Pour the tamarind extract and add turmeric powder, salt. Wait till it boils and the raw smell of the tamarind disappears.
8. Now add the bitter gourd pieces. Cook till it becomes soft.
9. Now add the cooked dal, jaggery (optional) and the ground paste.
10. Mix well and add the boiled chana.
11. Boil till it becomes thick and serve with steamed rice.


  • You can roast the coconut along with the spices for grinding. This gives a different flavor which tastes good. If you are adding, roast the spices first and then add grated coconut at last. Fry till they turn brown and grind to a paste by adding water.
  • The curry shouldn’t be thick like kootu. It should not be thin either. It should be somewhere between these two consistencies.
  • You can prepare it without black chana.
  • It is prepared in Kerala using coconut oil.

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