Pavakkai Pitlai

Pitlai is a thicker variation of sambar, prepared with freshly ground masala. Pavakkai pitlai is a tangy and spicy South Indian dish made with bitter gourd and a flavorful blend of spices. It is commonly served with rice or dosa.

Pavakkai Pitlai

Recipe by S Kamala
0.0 from 0 votes
Course: GraviesCuisine: Indian, TamilDifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time



Learn how to make the tangy and spicy South Indian dish pavakkai pitlai, a thicker version of sambar with freshly ground masala. Perfect with rice or dosa!


  • Bitter gourd – 3 Nos (Medium size)

  • Thuvar dhal – ½ cup

  • Boiled Peanuts – 1/2 cup

  • Grated Coconut -1/2 cup

  • Tamarind – small lemon size ball

  • Red chillies long – 4 Nos

  • Coriander Seeds – 2 tablespoons

  • Urad dhal-1 teaspoon

  • Bengal gram dhal – 2 tablespoons

  • Black Pepper – 1 teaspoon

  • Jeera (Cumin) -1 teaspoon

  • Turmeric powder – ½ teaspoon

  • salt-2 teaspoon or as per taste

  • Gingelly Oil – 1 tablespoon

  • Mustard – ½ teaspoon

  • Asafoetida powder – 2 pinches

  • Curry leaves – few


  • Slit the bitter gourds and remove the seeds. Cut it into small pieces. (You can also cut it into thin round slices). Sprinkle little salt and mix well. Keep it aside.
  • Soak tamarind in water and squeeze out the juice by adding 3 cups of water little by little.
  • Pressure cook the thuvar dhal till soft.
  • In a kadai put a teaspoon of oil and roast Bengal gram dhal, urad dhal, coriander seeds, pepper, jeera and red chillies one by one and keep it aside.
  • Same kadai add coconut gratings and fry till it changes to light brown. Remove and cool. Mix all the roasted ingredients and fried coconut grating and grind to a fine paste.
  • In a thick bottomed vessel put little oil. Take a handful of bitter gourd pieces and squeeze out all the water and add it. Fry the bitter gourd pieces for a while.
  • Then add the tamarind juice, turmeric powder and salt. Stir well and bring to boil.
  • When it boiled well and the bitter gourd is cooked, add the boiled peanuts, cooked dal, and the ground masala paste and mix well.
  • Let it boil for few more minutes. Season it with mustard, asafoetida and curry leaves.

Recipe Video


  • If you desire, you can add a small piece of jaggery to lessen the bitterness.
  • You can add cooked Kondai kadalai (whole channa) also instead of peanuts.


  1. Anonymous

    hi kamala,
    Nice recipe. The recipe is very similar to arachu vitta sambhar. I dont remove the seeds when i use bitter gourd. I have often wondered what the word pitlai means. Any idea?


  2. Hi Anu, Exactly. It is something like arachu vitta sambhar. Only difference is in Pitlai, more vegetables are used and look like kootu. We can use bittergourd with seeds (especially the small one) if it is tender. If the seeds are hard, it is difficult for children and aged to chew the seeds. Hence, I avoid hard seeds. Meaning of Pitlai?? Not sure about direct meaning, but it is a cross between sambar and kootu.

  3. Hi Kamala,

    My mom adds little bit of jaggery towards the end which gives it a slightly different taste from arachu vitta sambhar…..!

  4. Hi Rajeshwari,

    Yes. You are right. For bitter gourd recipes, adding little jaggery will minimise the bitterness. But some people may not like the sweetness, especially when we want to mix with hot rice.

  5. In our home we season first (mustard seads, redchillie, curry leaves) and add either Koothu Kadalai (Dark color garbanzo beans) or Peanuts. Then we fry the pavakkai in oil and then put tamarind juice.

  6. Ravichandran

    This is a tradiitonal Brahmin cookery dish. I tried using half ripe Mango pieces instead of Tamarind and also a pinch of Garam masala with Sambhar powder and it came out good with no bitterness.

  7. Hi Ravichandran,

    Using mango and garam masala is a great idea and I will try this combination. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Anonymous

    for any kinda pitlai, adding groundnuts will be more tastier 🙂 nice recipe.

  9. Hariharan

    Hi kamala-amma

    I tried this with sweet mango with one cup (50ml) of tamrind juice along with all the ingredients as u said it was lip smacking dishes for chappati and ven pongal.

    my mouth is watering as i post it.

  10. Hi kamala

    We used to say this in kerala paavakkai puli
    as all the ingredients same alike sambar only we dont use dhal to this

  11. for pavaka pitlai, we roast the coconut to brown colour and add as seasoning.

  12. Great recipe..! yummy..

  13. In our house we use ground nuts along with bitter gourd. The procedure is the same. Any way nice to see many people sharing it. Keep it up

  14. I may have found a different way to make a paste of the spices. After pan fry dry, Used my coffee blender to a fine power. Added water to it later and the paste was real smooth.

    I like your recipe very well.

    • Thank you Shankar Narayanan for the information. Yes. It is a good idea to powder it first and make a paste, since grinding small quantity to a fine paste in mixie is difficult.

  15. Hi Kamala… We roast the bitter gourd in coconut oil before adding tamarind water, so the crisp-cooked gourd tastes yummy N tangy 🙂

  16. I tried it out and got so many compliments from my family! Thank you for the awesome recipe!

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