Of vegetables, chips and recalcitrant nephews

 “Of course i ate my vegetables; didn’t i eat so many paavakai vathals (dried karela wafers) at lunch today?? And no, i don’t want any more veggies!!” protests my never-say-die 6-year old nephew who’s spending the summer with us. 

“What rubbish!! Wafers don’t count! No nutritive value whatsoever. Eat the greens or else…” is my unspecified threat!

I not only have the job of making him eat what i consider nutritious stuff but also have to manage the perceptions of my younger daughter who’s watching this whole exchange with great interest – i can SEE the wheels turning in her head – if Adarsh can get away with this, maybe i can try stuff too!! Unfortunately for them and fortunately for me, i was born decades before them and had tried many of the same tricks in the book – and figured out that parenting is also about staying one step ahead in the bargaining game! Both nevvy and daughter finally give up in sheer disgust – it’s difficult to get ahead of Amma! Which takes me back a few years earlier to when Kanch (my younger one) was about 3 years old. Suspicious of her playing “quietly” behind me on the bed for over ten minutes, without turning around, i told her to “stop doing whatever she was doing”. Stunned silence and then, “how did you know?” pipes the squeaky voice… “coz Amma has eyes at the back of her head”, I answer lazily. For the next 6 months, Kanch scrabbled around in my hair and scalp trying to find the “eyes at the back of Amma’s head”!!

Back to the vegetables… the everyday struggle with vegetables has had mothers doing very creative things with food but the struggle with karela (bittergourd / kaakarakai/paavakai) is something that ends only as the kids approach adulthood and actually develop a taste for it – and sometimes- it never happens! 

One of those strange kids who’ve always liked this bitter vegetable – I’ve learnt many ways of cooking it. One of my favourites is a Kerala curry I learnt from a friend – Rosemary – simple and so delicious that i make a large batch and snack on it through the day! 


  1. Bitter gourds – long ones – 4 – slice into thin rounds without removing the seeds. Microwave for 3-4 minutes on high.
  2. Onions – 3 – sliced into rings
  3. Salt
  4. Oil – 2 tbsp
  5. Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
  6. Chili powder  1/2 tsp
  7. Asafoetida – 1 large pinch

 Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and fry for 3-4 minutes along with the asafoetida and turmeric. Add the gourd and cook uncovered, turning over occasionally till the onions and the vegetables are done – this will take upwards of half an hour. Add the salt and chili powder and continue to roast till crisp. Switch off and leave uncovered till cool. 

AND you don’t need eyes at the back of your head to figure out it’s nutritious!