Snooty restaurants that palm off watered-down rasam as ‘Mulligatawny‘ would describe it as a ‘Okhra’. Indians prefer the quaint name of ‘ladyfingers’. I’ve never been a fan. From my very early years, I learnt to detest the violent green hue, the snappy texture (external) and gooey feel (internal) of bhindi. Apparently I’d start howling the minute mum’s hand moved towards the stack on the bhajiwala‘s cart.
Once, when I was about seven and mum was away or unwell or generally unavailable, dad decided to make us breakfast. With much a tada! and a flourish, he presented his best efforts – sandwich toast stuffed with raw bhindi. I think the trauma of that has never entirely left me.
Undeterred, mum and dad continued to coax, wheedle and force this vegetable down my throat. Most notable of all was the claim that eating bhindi would make me good at maths! To this day, dinnertable conversations when this dish is served are variations of,
Me: Bhindi again! I have a degree in mathematics. You would think that’s about enough maths for anybody!
Dad: And it’s all on account of the bhindi we made you eat!
Oh well, there is no accounting for tastes, I guess (all that mathematics notwithstanding). Recently though, I decided to give my parents a little surprise. Mum was returning from a fortnightly trip and I had decided to put up a nicely cooked meal for her anyway. I figured adding her favorite vegetable might be a nice touch. Obviously I’d also have to make it appetizing enough for me to want to eat it myself. Oil, salt and spice came to my rescue.
- 1/4 kilo bhindi (My mother checks for freshness by snapping off the end. If it snaps off easily, it’s fresh. If it stretches, it’s not. Also drop any that look blackish or have bruises)
- 1 tbsp chilli powder
- 1 tbsp turmeric (haldi)
- 1 cube of ginger for garnish
- 1 tsp salt
- Here’s what I started with – thoroughly washed (by soaking for a minute in bowl of water) bhindi.
- I chopped off the heads and the ends. Then I sliced each bhindi into half and slit it lengthwise twice. The result is quite gooey so it’s a good idea to do this on a chopping board & scrape everything into the vessel later.
- The masalas were simply sprinkled on top. I was really playing it by the ear at this point so I just mixed them all up using my fingers. In theory it could probably have been done with a spoon. However once the bhindi is cut (especially to this extent), the gooey mess is unbelievable. I figured I could use that wetness to ensure the masala got coated evenly over the pieces.
- Once the masala was evenly coated over the chopped bhindi, I just had to fry them. Standard procedure – wait for oil to heat up a bit, grab a handful and toss it in (not too forcefully or a splash of oil will give you a painful burn). Fry till crispy brown.
- I garnished the bhindi fry with fresh grated ginger. This is something new for me. Ginger has always been something I ground into paste and used as a base but never as a garnish. As it turns out the crunchy fresh zing of ginger goes a long way in masking any residual bhindi sliminess and it also complements the fried flavour really well.
I intended for the bhindi fry to only be a surprise for my mother and not the entire meal. I guess if I’d sliced it into longer strips (instead of halving them), it could well have been a nice appetizer. As it turned out, I also made some chutney aloo sabzi, sambhar, rice and some fresh kachumbar salad. Here’s what my plate looked like at dinner. Mum loved it!
* Also served at Plain Salted.