Athalakkai looks very similar to tender bitter gourds both in shape and colour. Those who haven't seen this vegetable before will think that it is a form of tender bitter gourd. But its not so. It has mild bitter taste, dark greenish in colour and tapioca pearls like seeds.
Though this vegetable grows in most of the southern districts in Tamilnadu, still this vegetable is not very popular among local people because of its unavailability in market. It is a kind of vegetable which is available only during rainy and winter season(between October and January). During this period they grow without the need for cultivation and then dry after January. The tuber root(Kilangu) stay alive in the soil till next season and grows by itself using the water which is being passed to other cultivated plants.
Athalakkai - Tamil
Momordica Cymbalaria - botanical name
Kaasara Kaaya - Telugu
Karsikayi - Kannada
Kattupaval - Malayalam (From Wiki)
Using athalakkai, We prepare stir fry (poriyal), gravy (pulikulambu), pickle and for making vathal (dried athalakkai). I have also heard people making thogayal using it. The fresh athalakkai seed will burst if you pluck it from the plant and keep it for a long time in room temperature. So, whenever you buy athalakkai, immediately prepare any gravy or stir fry it or prepare vadam to avoid bursting and wasting it.
My grandma used to say it grows well in black soil (karisal land). Hence it is harvested more in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. She also used to say it is very good for diabetes and to prevent gastrointestinal problems.
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 25 minutes
Athalakkai - 250grams
Small Onions / Shallots - 1/2 cup, finely sliced
Red chilli powder - 1 teaspoon
Sambar masala - 1 teaspoon
Salt - to taste
Turmeric powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Oil - 3 teaspoons
Curry leaves - 1 string
Mustard seeds - 1/2 teaspoons
Asafoetida - a pinch
1) Cut both the ends/corners of the athalakkai using hands and wash it well it water two or three times. Keep it aside.
2) Take a frying pan / kadai. Heat 3 teaspoons of oil in it.
3) When the oil is hot and not smoking, add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. It will splutter.
4) Add asafoetida and onion.
5) Saute it till the onion becomes soft and translucent but not brown. Add a pinch of salt for quick cooking of onions.
6) Add the washed athalakkai now. Sprinkle a handful of water. Turn the flame to low and cover the frying pan with lid. Let it cook for 5-7 minutes on the low flame.
7) After 7 minutes. remove lid and add red chilli powder, sambar masala, turmeric powder and salt. Mix well and continue cooking till the raw smell of masala goes off. It will again take another 5 minutes.
8) Check the athalakkai whether it is cooked or not. The skin will turn into soft once cooked. Turn the flame off.
9) Serve it with hot steamed rice.
1) After cooking athalakkai, though the skin turns soft, the seeds give a crunchy taste.
2) It tastes slightly bitter like bitter gourd. So try adding more onion (if you like) and prepare a stir fry. By this way you can reduce the bitterness to some extent.