Karela Keema Recipe, A Traditional Old Delhi Summer Favourite
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When people talk about Old Delhi favourites, the images of Nalli Nihari, Mutton Raan and Biryanis come up immediately. This is quite natural, because for both Delhiites and tourists, Old Delhi’s famed eateries are on that must-visit food lover’s list, and these are the dishes most people do ask for. But the tapestry of Old Delhi’s culinary cuisine is not just defined by these dishes, but also homemade favourites like Karela Keema

In her book Jasmine & Jinns: Memories and Recipes of My Delhi, the late author and columnist Sadia Dehlvi describes Karela Keema as one of her favourite minced meat dishes. “I make it all through the summer months, when karela and raw mangoes are in plenty,” she writes. “I find most people, other than Dilliwalas, don’t know about this dish. Most friends try it for the first time in my home and seem to love it.”

Of course, Dehlvi’s description of the dish might make you believe that Keema Karela is a Delhi Muslim dish, but actually, the dish speaks to her Punjabi Saudagaran background more than anything else. There is, naturally, a Mughal history connect because Keema or Qeema dishes did come to India from the Persian and Central Asian civilizations. This is also the reason why like other Keema dishes, Keema Karela is also popular in present-day Uttar Pradesh as well as Pakistan. 

But many Punjabi homes, both Hindu and Muslim, also cook Keema Karela—albeit without the raw mangoes Dehlvi so loves in her family version. In fact, with the addition of tomatoes for the sour element that reduces the bitterness of Karela to a large extent, the lack of raw mangoes is easily remedied. So, it is perhaps more accurate to say that Keema Karela is a dish that may have Mughlai origins but has a much more cultural significance in the culinary tapestry of undivided or pre-Partition Punjab. 

Video credit: YouTube/Zaika Dilli 6

No matter what its precise origins, it suffices to say that Keema Karela is one of those rare gems from Punjabi and Old Delhi cuisines that still hasn’t made it to commercial kitchens and restaurants. Now if you are wondering how to then get a taste of this dish if it isn’t readily sold in restaurants and eateries, then here’s the answer. Try this recipe for Keema Karela at home and relish the flavours with some parathas or rotis. 


1.5 cups mutton mince 

4 bitter gourd 

3 onions, chopped 

2 tomatoes, pureed 

3 green chillies, chopped 

1 tsp shahi jeera 

1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste 

½ tsp turmeric powder 

1 tsp red chilli powder 

1 tsp coriander powder 

1 tsp garam masala powder 

1 tsp amchur powder 

Salt, to taste 

4 tbsp oil 

2 tbsp lemon juice 

Mint leaves, to garnish 


1. Scrape the bitter gourd and chop them into roundrels. 

2. Add a bit of salt and turmeric to the chopped bitter gourd, mix well and let them rest for half an hour. 

3. Now, heat the oil in a pan. 

4. Add the marinated bitter gourd and fry them until golden brown. 

5. Drain the fried bitter gourd and set them aside. 

6. Now add the caraway seeds and onions. 

7. Saute the onions until they start turning brown, then add the ginger garlic paste. 

8. Mix well and cook for two minutes, then add the tomato puree. 

9. Continue cooking for a few more minutes, then add the turmeric powder, red chilli powder, garam masala powder, salt and green chillies. 

10. Mix well, and once the raw smell of the spices goes away, add the mutton mince. 

11. Saute the mutton mince with the spices and cook until the oil separates.  

12. Add a splash or two of water if the dish dries out too much. 

13. Now add the fried bitter gourd back in, adjust the salt, mix well and cook until done. 

14. Garnish the dish with lemon juice and mint leaves and serve hot.