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Connecticut Garden Journal: Kerala

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Kerala or bitter melon

I first ate kerala or bitter melon, when I went to India in the early 1990's. I remember eating bitter tasting vegetables when I was in the Peace Corps in Thailand, so I wasn't too surprised by the flavor. What I really liked was how local villagers cooked it. Roasted, stuffed, steamed or sautéed it added a depth of flavor that I love.

I've grown kerala in our garden for years. This year I've grown it in our unheated greenhouse and it has taken off! Instead of waiting for fall to harvest, I've been munching on kerala for weeks already and there are few pests.

Kerala is a member of the cucumber family. It has warty or smooth skinned fruits. It's also a strong, vining plant, so grow it on a fence or trellis in full sun on well-drained, fertile soil. Pinch long vines to hastening fruit production and keep the plant in bounds.

Even if you aren't a fan of the large, cucumber-sized fruits, the vines are attractive with lobed leaves and pretty yellow flowers. Fruits grow quickly in the heat. I try to keep on top of the harvest by picking fruit on the young side.

No one else in our household likes the bitter flavor, so it's a special treat that I grow for myself. My usual way of eating them is sautéing kerala in a pan with sweet onions, sweet peppers and maybe garlic. I love the combination of slightly bitter and sweet flavors. The key to controlling the bitterness is to cut unpeeled fruits in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.

Charlie Nardozzi is a regional Emmy® Award winning garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert information to home gardeners.
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