This post is dedicated to my mom, without whom I would never have the courage to make this dish.
Y’all know Bhindi right? Or okra, or ladies’ fingers in English. Wikipedia states that it’s a “flowering plant in the mallow family,” whatever the hell that means. You know, this thing:
To me it’s one of those vegetables that always tastes good when someone else makes it, because they all have different ways to cook it. I’ll admit that it took my family a rather long time to ensure that the homemade bhindi we cooked up didn’t taste absolutely rank.
Because here’s the thing with okra: objectively, it tastes disgusting.
I mean… have you smelled raw ladies’ fingers? We, as Indians (or anyone who has this vegetable as a staple in their diet) rave about this dish like its crack, but everyone who remembers their first few experiences making it knows that when it goes wrong, it goes real wrong.
Slightly raw bhindi is the worst, right up there with cardamom in biryani and uneven pieces of ginger in dal. Not only is the taste low-key repulsive, but it’s the texture that just ruins your whole day for you. Not to mention, it expels water with even the slightest provocation, leaving you with a bland mush full of stringy veggies and slippery seeds.
Every Indian kid who has ever eaten bhindi is grimacing right now; probably getting flashbacks to that one time in school when their lunch was… less than satisfactory and hoped someone who liked wet ladies’ fingers would swap their exponentially better food with them. So, I’m sorry for that image, but you have to realise that my fear of making bad okra isn’t unfounded.
When I first moved away from home, I made the mistake of making bhindi by cooking it while it was still damp, followed by adding salt in the pan first. Shortly after that I stopped making Indian-style vegetables entirely, too scared of wasting more resources on the stupid induction stove that always forced you to under-cook things.
Then, a few days ago, Good Ol’ Ma told me exactly what to do to avoid making the same mistakes and encouraged me to try again. So I did.
Basically, you need to strip it away from all that makes it okra and make an effort to transform it into something that could be edible. This includes, but is not limited to: getting rid of that gross goo from between its seeds that simply does not leave, add ing enough oil to drown its natural taste and, for cowards and rookies such as myself, mixing it with potatoes and fried onions just in case some of the goo remains.
And once you have completely shoved all nutritional value into a burning building, an acceptable okra dish emerges from the ashes.
So, because I didn’t just post this to boast about learning a new life-skill, here is the recipe. Bear in mind that this is a very basic recipe, and for the very specific audience who tend to screw up their bhindis.
Prep time: Eh, depends. I’ll explain later.
Cooking time: Also depends.
Feeds: …look I don’t know okay? It was all intuitive, so get off my back.
- definitely more than 2 tablespoons of cooking oil
- 1 potato
- 1/2 an onion (optional)
- 200-250 g okra/bhindi/ladies’ finger
- red chili powder
- a pinch of coriander powder (optional)
- a pinch of cumin powder (optional)
- salt to taste
- Wash your okra/ladies’ fingers thoroughly with water – ignoring the slimy feeling you get in your hand due to the goo. Place on a towel and pat dry thoroughly. Keep the towel over it to ensure it keeps drying.
Mother instructed to wash it hours before so that there’s no room for the goo to make an appearance in the first place, but I was lazy.
- In a frying pan, pour a shit ton of cooking oil on medium heat.
- Dice up your potatoes into somewhat small pieces and put them into the pan.
- Add the chili powder, turmeric, coriander and cumin powders and mix well. Cover the pan with a lid and forget it exists for a while.
- In another smaller pan, pour some more oil (also more than 2 tablespoons) and place on high heat.
- Cut up your half onion into slices and dump it in the small pan (carefully, though. That shit spits oil), before stirring and covering it. The aim is to caramelize this onion until its burnt-ish, as a distraction in case the okra tastes like crap*.
- Keep checking on the potato and onion, stir when necessary.
- Start cutting up your dry okra. The shape of choice is yours but I cut it in half first before making vertical incisions. Wipe and ignore the goo that inevitably gets stuck on your knife, it is a part of life
and then you die.
- When your potato is cooked – which can be anywhere between 15-20 minutes, as long as the pan is covered – remove the pieces and set aside.
- Add some more oil to Big Pan and add your okra. Mix it with the oil thoroughly, adding some more turmeric and chili powder for taste. Cover with a lid.
- Make sure your onions in Small Pan are done and place aside to cool. Do not forget about it – I cannot be held responsible for a kitchen fire*.
- Cook the okra until it doesn’t look green anymore, and smells more like oil than its natural… fragrance.
- Then add your onions and potatoes, stir some more and kill the heat. Keep the lid on for it to cook any excess of the grossness.
- Click a photo to show the world that you’re capable of making something other than pasta, sprinkle some salt, and serve.
* These steps are optional
In all honesty, I don’t expect anyone other than myself to follow this recipe, seeing as you all might have mastered bhindi-making long before I had the chance, so I’m unsure if this will be useful for anyone. That being said, I’m not opposed to feedback, of course, and I needed something to post this week.
Until next time?