Pavakkai Pitlai / Bittergourd Pitlai is a South Indian kuzhambu with no onion, no garlic. This Pitlai is made using bitter gourd, lentil, legume, tamarind water and spicy coconut paste. Traditionally, brown chickpeas is used along with toor dal and bitter gourd in this pitlai. Pavakkai Pitlai is an awesome accompaniment for hot, plain rice.


Right from my childhood, I have always eaten bitter gourd without any complaints. In fact, over the years, I have become a big fan of this vegetable. Both my grandmom and mom have tried their best to include most of the vegetables in our everyday diet and have also tried making a variety of dishes using these vegetables. This has helped both me and my sister develop a love for vegetables and enjoy such traditional recipes.

Pavakkai/ Bittergourd Pitlai

My husband was never a fan of bitter gourd. Post our wedding, I took huge efforts to make him eat bitter gourd. The only dish he initially appreciated was crispy bitter gourd fry. One fine day, I introduced this pavakkai pitlai and he instantly fell in love with it. Over the years, he has definitely developed more liking for it. If he can fall in love with it, anybody can 🙂 If you think this pitlai will taste bitter, then I can assure you, it won’t. Pavakkai Pitlai has a mild spice, tanginess, slight bitterness and a little bit of jaggery added to balance the flavours.

Pavakkai Pitlai

Though Pitlai is very similar to araichuvitta sambar, the consistency of Pitlai is a little thicker than sambar. According to me, the best part of this pavakkai pitlai is the brown chickpeas. I love the addition of it in this recipe. There should be an equal balance of pavakkai, dal and chickpeas. Each bite should have enough of all of these!
In our family, Pitlai is definitely prepared on festival days and special occasions. We love having it with hot rice and crispy potato fry.

Pavakkai Pitlai

I add jaggery to this Pitlai to give a balance between the sourness of tamarind, bitterness of bittergourd and spice from coconut chilli paste.Adding a bit of jaggery to any tamarind paste dish definitely gives a good balance of taste and flavours. I prefer making the pitlai with sesame oil. Infact, I prepare most of the South Indian kuzhambu varieties using this oil. The flavour from the oil elevates the dish to another level!

Ingredients required

Though the recipe looks a little intimidating, the preparation is a breeze if you have the ingredients ready. These are the 5 main components of this Pitlai :

Cooked Toor Dal
Tamarind Water
Boiled Chickpeas
Cooked Bitter Gourd
Coconut Paste

Serving Suggestions!

Pavakkai Pitlai is usually part of a full South Indian meal and is served as an accompaniment for rice. It tastes awesome with Crispy Potato or Plaintain Fry. Sometimes, even some simple appalam/papad or chips is enough as a side dish. I also love having Pitlai along with some crispy dosa or adai. Sometimes, I prefer Pitlai over regular sambar or chuteney. If you haven’t tried it, please do!

Pavakkai Pitlai

Pitlai can also be made with Brinjal, Cluster beans apart from Bitter Gourd! But, Bittergourd is my forever favourite in this recipe. Even if you aren’t a bitter gourd lover, do give this pitlai a try. You won’t regret it 🙂


Pavakkai Pitlai / Bittergourd Pitlai

Pavakkai Pitlai is a South Indian kuzhambu variety made using Bittergourd, Dal, Chickpeas and mildly spicy coconut gravy.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time8 hrs
Course: lunch, Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: Bittergourd Kuzhambu, bittergourd pitlai, pavakkai pitlai, pitlai recipe
Servings: 4
Author: Gayathri Vijayakumar


  • 2 Bittergourd Medium
  • 1/3 cup Toor Dal
  • 1/4 cup Brown Chana
  • Salt as needed
  • 1/4 tsp Turmeric Powder
  • Tamarind small gooseberry sized
  • Jaggery a pinch

For the masala paste

  • 1 tsp Oil
  • 1 tbsp Coriander Seeds
  • 2 tsp Chana Dal
  • 5 Red Chillies
  • 1/4 cup Grated Coconut
  • 5 Fenugreek seeds

For Tempering

  • 1 tsp Sesame Oil
  • 1 tsp Mustard Seeds
  • Asafoetida a pinch
  • Curry Leaves Handful

For garnishing

  • 3 tbsp Coriander Leaves finely chopped


To prepare

  • Soak brown chana overnight and pressure cook for 3 whistles or until soft. It should not be mushy.
  • Pressure cook toor dal for 4 whistles or until done. Mash and keep aside.
  • Cut bittergourd into rounds and discard the seeds. Pressure cook for 3 whistles and keep aside.
  • Soak tamarind in 2 cups of warm water and extract the juice. Discard the tamarind pulp.

Masala Paste

  • In a pan, add a tsp of oil. Once hot, add coriander seeds, chana dal, red chillies. Fry on medium flame till golden brown. Finally, add grated coconut and fenugreek seeds. Saute for a minute and switch off.
  • Once it cools down to room temperature, grind the above ingredients to a smooth paste adding little water.

To make the pitlai

  • In a pan, add a tsp of sesame oil. Once hot, add mustard seeds, asafoetida and curry leaves. Saute for 30 seconds.
  • Add tamarind water, turmeric powder, little salt. Add the bittergourd and cooked chana. Let it boil along with tamarind water till the raw smell of tamarind leaves.
  • Add cooked toor dal and masala paste. Add water if needed.
  • Let it all cook together until pitlai reaches desired consistency. It should be thick. It takes around 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, taste and add adjust salt. Add a pinch of jaggery to balance the taste.
  • Once everything comes together and reaches the desired consistency, garnish with chopped coriander leaves.


The consistency should be slightly thick. 
I usually soak toor dal for 30 mins in warm water and then pressure cook. This helps in cooking faster and also helps in getting a mushy dal. I have also read it helps in better digestion of dal.