Karawila Sambal from Prakash Sivanathan and Niranjala Ellawala's "Sri Lanka: The Cookbook"

If you have our second issue, Relishes, you’ve seen Asian relishes of various types, tastes, and textures. However, there's one relish, different from the others, that we’d like to introduce to you. This Sri Lankan relish is more like a salad; it’s chunky; and its featured component is deep-fried at very high heat before being mixed with the other ingredients.

We love having this relish with a creamy coconut chicken curry (we recommend the Burmese chicken curry in our first issue, Noodles) and rice. The bitterness of Indian bitter melons or bitter gourds, spiked with lime, makes an already delicious and satisfying meal even better and more interesting.

Be sure to buy the correct type of bitter melons. You want the type that goes by the name “karela” (“karawila” in Sinhalese, one of the main languages of Sri Lanka) or Indian bitter melons/gourds. They’re smaller, oblong, roughly 4 to 5 inches in length, with both ends tapered to pointy tips. They have tiny bumps on the skin that are tightly clustered and uneven. Don’t get them confused with Chinese bitter melons which are larger in size with their bumps bigger and more spread out.

KARAWILA SAMBOL (warm bitter gourd relish)

In Ayurvedic medicine karawila has many health properties, and is believed to be beneficial for those with psoriasis and eczema. But it’s also delicious, with an intriguing bitterness that’s tempered here by lime and salt.

Serves 4

  • 14 ounces (400g) bitter gourds (about 3 medium gourds)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • Salt
  • 2 1/4 cups vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 hot green chiles, deseeded and sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Juice of 1/2 lime


    Wash the bitter gourds. Trim off the pointy ends and cut them into thin round slices. Remove the fibers and seeds from the center of each slice.

    Fill a medium saucepan with cold water and add a large pinch of salt. Tip the gourd slices into the salt water, swirl them around, then take out a handful of slices at a time, squeezing out the water and putting them in a large flat dish as you go. This helps to reduce the bitterness of the vegetable. Sprinkle the gourd with the turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

    Bring the oil to boiling point in a deep saucepan, then reduce the heat to medium. Deep-fry the gourd slices in small batches for 3–4 minutes until they turn golden brown, turning them as they cook. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and put them in a medium bowl.

    When they have cooled down slightly, add the raw onions, green chillies and pepper, and give it a good mix with your hands. Squeeze in the lime juice, stir, and taste. Add more salt as needed. Serve immediately.

    Variation: This dish also works well with tomato. Add a finely chopped small tomato into the mix with the onions and chiles if you wish.

    Reprinted with permission from Sri Lanka the Cookbook by Prakash Sivanathan and Niranjala Ellawala, Copyright © 2017. Published by Frances Lincoln Publishers.