One of the best things to eat here in Malaysia is banana leaf curry. Nothing hits the spot like a big pile of rice with curry on top, crispy papadums on the side, and a plethora of vegetable curries; all eaten off a huge banana leaf. For someone like me who likes to taste a little bit of everything, it’s a match made in curry heaven.
In my opinion, some of the best curries out there are vegetarian. One of the best things I ever ate was a banana flower curry in Sri Lanka. Therefore, I am perfectly happy with creamy dhal, chana masala and all the other various forms of Indian vegetarian dishes. So, imagine my enthusiasm when I first tasted Karela chips (fried bitter melon or in this case, fried snake gourd). Salty, crispy and with just a touch of spice…oh man, I could easily eat an entire heaping banana leaf pile of these things. However, the nice people at the Banana Leaf restaurant will only allow me a large spoonful at most. So, naturally, I took matters into my own hands and decided to make them myself.
This recipe is something I make every Saturday night or as it is known in my house-‘curry night’. While my husband toils away in the kitchen making his delicious ‘house curry’ and fish pakora, I pitch in and make the basmati and these little tasty morsels. Add some beer to the mix and needless to say, we have quite the feast that even my baby daughter partakes in (sans beer, of course).
400-500g (14oz-18oz) snake gourd or bitter melon (you can always substitute this with zucchini)
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp madras curry spice powder
0.5 – 1 cup (64g – 128g) cornstarch
oil for deep frying
Slice snake gourd lengthwise and cut into 0.5 cm (1/4 inch) pieces. Put in a colander and sprinkle with 1 tsp sea salt and mix. Let sit for 45min to 1 hour to allow for all the excess water to drain away. Squeeze out any water or, if you are like me and are using a salad spinner, spin out any excess water.
Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add 2 tsp of the Madras curry spice powder and mix thoroughly until all the vegetables are evenly coated. Add cornstarch and mix, allowing the gourd to dredge and be thoroughly coated in cornstarch. Heat oil in oil in a large wok or deep fryer and fry until crispy and golden (should be around 5 min).
Remove from oil with a slotted spoon or spatula, drain the excess oil on paper towels and transfer to a bowl. Garnish with slices of lemon. If you are substituting zucchini for gourd, you may want to sprinkle some additional salt and spice on top of the fried chips for added flavor (again, if needed).
Since not everyone can conveniently obtain snake gourd or bitter melon, then you can always substitute zucchini for it or even try out plain old cucumber.
Snake gourd or bitter melon is best for this recipe as it best picks up the flavors of the salt and spice but zucchini can be substituted if you are keen on making this dish. The zucchini retains more moisture so you may need to add an extra dusting of salt and spice after is has been fried.
I like to use a special homemade Madras curry powder to season the karela chips but you can use any spice mix you prefer. Typically it is seasoned with red chile powder but feel free to experiment with new flavors.
Cornstarch is king and works best for sticking to the wet vegetable and getting that crispy coating. I add about 1/2 cup-1 cup of cornstarch to the veg and let it sit for about 5 minutes while the oil gets hot which allows it to properly dredge.