The bitter, better bite

Some savour sour and most like to coddle their sweet tooth, but bitter is a flavour that is seldom had by choice. When plated on the dining table it rarely has any enthusiastic takers and for kids, it literally means having to be force-fed.

But did you know that the despised brinjal can work wonderfully if added to the right curries and that bitter lettuces can be used in more than just salads?

Watermelon and Arugula Pizza by baker Ayushi Shah of gourmet bakery and kitchen, Icing on Top. Pic/Sunil Tiwari

According to baker Ayushi Shah, “The right way to start loving any bitter vegetable is by treating its bitter flavour correctly.” Shah’s bakery and gourmet kitchen Icing on Top, specialises in bite-sized canapés that come dressed in shreds of bitter greens. She uses strong flavours such as cheeses, fruits and glazes to offset the sharpness of vegetables such as fenugreek, arugula and rocket lettuce.

For Chef Joshua D’Souza of Silverspoon Gourmet, bitter vegetables not only deliver wonderful flavour notes, they add to the nutritional quotient of a dish as well. Take, for instance, radicchio leaves, he says. “Apart from being gourmet, they are a good source of minerals such as manganese, copper, iron, zinc and potassium.”

Macrobiotic expert, Shonali Sabherwal agrees. “Our organs like a particular flavour and the liver is a taker of bitter taste. During times when the liver functions sluggishly, a healthy intake of bitter vegetables helps in its detoxification.”

If that isn’t motivation enough, here are five reasons why your food habits should turn bitter.

Aragula leavesĀ in Watermelon and Arugula Pizza

1 bunch arugula lettuce leaves, washed and hand-torn
2 slices of deseeded watermelon, cut into 1-inch circles
150g feta cheese
50g roasted pine nuts
2tsp balsamic vinegar

>> Crumble feta cheese and keep aside
>> On a plate, place the watermelon slices and throw arugula lettuce leaves on top
>> Sprinkle crumbled feta cheese and spread it evenly with your finger tips
>> Add pine nuts on top and finish the dish with a dash of balsamic vinegar
>> Use a pizza cutter to slice the watermelon into four wedges and serve as an appetiser

>> Arugula pairs well with cheeses and fruits, as it has a mildly bitter flavour
>> Freeze the leaves for 10 to 15 minutes in the deep freezer before use. This helps retain their natural crunch

Radicchio leaves in Radicchio Parcels
1 cup chopped chicken, roasted and shredded
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup plain yogurt
½ cup mango chutney
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
3tbsp Indian curry paste
Handful of grapes or chopped apple pieces
2 medium heads of radicchio leaves
1 bunch cilantro
8-10 almonds

>> In a blender, churn mayonnaise, yogurt, mango chutney, lemon juice, curry paste and almonds into a fine paste
>> Marinate chicken pieces in this dressing and keep it aside
>> Cut the core of the radicchio head and carefully pull apart the leaves
>> Spoon the chicken mixture onto an individual radicchio leaf and wrap it diagonally like an Indian paan
>> Fasten it with toothpicks, if necessary. Serve the parcels on a glass platter as an appetiser

>> Soak radicchio in cold milk for a few minutes before use. This technique helps tone down the strong bitter notes. Rinse the lettuce in cold water before use
>> Apart from being used in salads, radicchio can be used as a pizza topping

Bitter gourd in Kakarai Masala

3 cups bitter gourd, deseeded and sliced
1 cup tamarind pulp
1 cup tomatoes, finely chopped
1 cup onion
1tbsp chilli powder
2tbsp coriander powder
½tsp cumin powder
½cup oil
½coconut paste
3 curry leaves
1tbsp mustard seeds
1tsp cumin seeds
1tsp fenugreek seeds
1tsp turmeric powder

>> In a kadai, heat oil and add mustard, cumin and fenugreek seeds
>> Once the seeds begin to crackle, add onions and sauté till golden brown
>> Add tomatoes, tamarind pulp, chilli powder, coriander powder, cumin powder
>> Once the mixture looks well-cooked, throw in the bitter gourd slices along with curry leaves, coconut paste and turmeric powder
>> Simmer for 10 minutes
>> Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve hot

>> The best way to reduce bitter gourd’s bitterness is by soaking it in salted water for 10 minutes before use
>> You can even balance out its flavour by adding extra lemon juice and tamarind pulp to the main dish

Fenugreek in Uttari Lahsooni Saag
1tbsp oil
20g garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
½tbsp ginger-garlic paste
2 green chillies
300g spinach, finely chopped
150g fenugreek, finely chopped
50g dill leaves, finely chopped
½tsp cumin powder
½tsp black pepper powder
Garam masala
20g butter
30ml cream
½tsp lemon juice
½tsp kasoori methi powder

>> In a pan, heat oil and sauté garlic and onions till they turn golden brown
>> Add ginger-garlic paste, green chillies and mix well
>> Add fenugreek, chopped spinach and dill leaves
>> Sauté the mixture for 7-8 minutes and season with cumin powder, black pepper, garam masala, mace and salt
>> Add cream, butter, lemon juice and kasoori methi and mix well
>> Cook the subji until it achieves a shiny texture
>> Remove from flame and garnish with kasoori methi. Serve hot with naan or rice

>> Always store fenugreek in a cool, dry place. Prolonged exposure to heat can make the ingredient more bitter
>> Choose leaves that are dark green and fresh. These have a mild bitterness that can be cut with the creaminess of dairy products

Thai brinjal in Red Curry


A handful of Thai brinjals
450g chicken, sliced
3 cups coconut milk
3tbsp oil
½ cup red curry paste
½ eggplant, diced
Handful of bamboo shoots, sliced
5 green and red chillies, diagonally slit,
2-3 basil leaves
2tbsp fish sauce

>> In a pan, heat oil and sauté the red curry paste
>> Add one cup of coconut milk and stir gently, diluting the paste
>> Add the vegetables and chicken pieces and mix well. Pour the remaining coconut milk
>> Add salt to taste
>> Add basil leaves, fish sauce, red and green chillies and bring it to a boil. Serve the curry hot with steamed rice.

>> Thai brinjal or pea aubergines go well with most Asian curries. However, always add them towards the end of preparation, as they require very little time to cook
>> While buying Thai brinjal, go for the ones that have a firm texture and a non-bruised greenish peel

Radish leaves in Moolangi Keerai Masiyal
½cup channa dal, boiled
1 cup moong dal, boiled
1kg radish leaves, chopped
1tsp mustard seeds
1tsp cumin seeds
10 red chillies
3tbsp ghee
1 tomato
10 green chillies
50ml oil
Salt to taste

>> In a pan, heat oil and add mustard seeds, red chillies, cumin seeds and sauté until the seeds begin to crackle
>> To this, add tomatoes, red chillies, ghee and cook for a few minutes
>> Tip in the leaves and lentils allow the dish to simmer until the lentils soften
>> Add salt to taste

>> Reduce the bitterness of radish leaves by seasoning them with salt ten minutes before cooking
>> You can scrub turmeric powder on radish leaves to make them less pungentĀ 

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