Bhindi, commonly known as okra in the United States, is one vegetable I’ve had little– to no– experience with. It’s not that I didn’t like it, or that I felt intimidated by it’s funny shape and sticky, weird texture. In fact, I didn’t even know it had a sticky, weird texture until fairly recently.
Instead, the simple truth is that okra is not a popular vegetable in Minnesota. Most grocery stores don’t carry it, and most people wouldn’t know what it was or what to do with it even if they did.
Before Piyush and I were married, I wanted to impress him and make his favorite dish. I asked him what it was and he told me “Bhindi Masala.” I was absolutely confused.
I thought bindi was the forehead decoration (usually a red dot or jewel) worn by women…I didn’t realize it was also a vegetable! I must have had some sort of befuddled look on my face because Piyush then went into a 15 minute lecture about the Hindi alphabet and its correct pronunciation.
I learned that bhindi and bindi are not the same thing, but they sound exactly the same. Exactly. Piyush assured me that they don’t, but I know what I hear; and to me there is no difference.
He then went on about bhindi, trying to explain to me what it was in English. He kept saying “ladies finger” …I was even more confused. I thought ladies fingers were oval shaped cookies! Then he said, “okra.” I still had no idea what he was talking about.
Oh how times have changed…
I can’t say that okra is my favorite vegetable, but I’ve grown to tolerate it. Piyush, on the other hand, could eat a whole pound in one sitting. He loves the stuff!
Fresh okra should be firm, crisp and bright green. They should also curve very slightly towards the narrow end. Piyush says the best okra should be pretty small to medium sized. The bigger the pods, the more bitter they taste…I guess.
I’ve learned that I can purchase fresh okra from any local Asian market. Occasionally one of the sellers at the local farmers market will have a small container full as well. I’m still not the greatest at picking the best pods, so when all else fails, the Indian market will have frozen okra.
Before you begin to cook the okra, there are a few things you should know. First, it’s important to wash and dry off the pods, and to trim the ends. Second, there will be a sticky, gel-like substance inside the okra. It’s weird and slightly intimidating, but it will disappear as the okra cooks.
For this recipe, I sliced the okra pods in half, and then cut them into manageable pieces–about 1 inch long, or so. If you prefer, you could slice the okra into 1/2 inch circles instead.
The cooking process:
I’ve found that by adding the extra water to the masala, the okra is sure to cook properly and there will not be any stickiness left behind. Simply cook the masala until the water evaporates and the bhindi is softened. The resulting curry is considered dry, and is perfect for eating with naan, rotis or chapatis!
Serves 2 as main course, 4 if served on the side
- 1 lb. bhindi (okra)
- 2 tbsp. oil
- 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 4 green chilies (I used Thai), slit
- 1 tsp. khus khus (white poppy seeds)
- 1 tsp. black mustard seeds
- 1 tsp. cumin, ground
- 1 tsp. coriander, ground
- 2 tsp. garam masala
- 1 tsp. turmeric, ground
- 5 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 3/4 c. fresh diced roma tomatoes (you may substitute canned or even use my curry base recipe)
- 1/2 c. water –more if needed to cook the okra through
- salt, to taste
- black pepper, to taste
- fresh corriander (cilantro), for garnish
- Wash, dry and slice bhindi as desired. Set aside.
- Add oil to a pan over medium-high heat. Toss mustard seeds into oil and cook until they start to splatter. Once the seeds splatter, add the cumin, corriander, garam masala, tumeric, chiles and sliced onions. Cook for about 4 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add garlic and khus khus. Cook an additional minute, or so.
- Add the tomatoes to the curry. Mix everything well and cook for two minutes before adding the bhindi. Add 1/2 c. water, or more and allow the bhindi to simmer. Keep adding water, as needed, if the bhindi is still giving off a sticky substance. Cook for approximately 15-20 minutes.
- Season with salt and black pepper, to taste.
- Turn off heat and garnish with chopped corriander. Serve with rotis…and enjoy!
Time to get ready for work! Have a happy Friday, everyone! 🙂