I have been living outside India for many years now. One of the most annoying things that I still struggle to date is – calling Bhindi as ‘Okra’, as opposed to ‘Lady-fingers’ which we have grown up calling it back home.
I remember the first time I asked for ‘Lady-fingers’ at a vegetable shop in London, the lady gave me the most confused look. It took me a while to realise that lady-fingers outside India is a term given to certain, finger-shaped biscuits that are used in the popular dessert Tiramisu. Bhindi here is strictly known as Okra. Now, many years later, I am able to check myself and say the correct name for this vegetable in public, but every time I have to stop myself saying ‘Lady-fingers’ , I cry a little inside. Sigh!
Anyway. Now that we have the dramatics out of theway, let me come to today’s recipe. In India, people make stuffed Okra using many different ingredients. Some use chick-pea flour in addition to the dry-spices and others use roasted coconut powder. My mother makes them with roasted, grated onions but that particular dish is more well-suited for a gathering or dinner party. For me, its too rich for an everyday meal.
The version I am sharing today, I learnt it from my sister-in-law who in turn learnt it from a cooking lady who worked at her place in Hyderabad many years ago. This has been a popular way of making stuffed Okra in our extended family ever since. It’s easy yet delicious.
‘Kalonji’ or ‘Nigella seeds’ is the star ingredient in the spice-mix that we have to prepare here. This recipe wouldn’t work if you do not use Kalonji in it. ‘Amchoor’ or Mango powder is another important spice that gives the powder its characteristic tangyness. Also, be very careful while adding your Fenugreek seeds as they can turn your powder bitter instantly if you do not keep a check on its quantity. So, do not experiment too much with them, in any recipe for that matter.
You can make this powder in bulk and store it in an air-tight container for ages. In addition to using it in stuffed okra, you can also sprinkle it over your regular ‘bhindi ki sabzi’ for a lovely, fragrant flavor.
If you haven’t worked with Okra much before in general, there are a couple of things that you need to know.
Firstly, cleaning the Okra. I always wash them very well by rubbing the dirt off them in a tub-full of water and repeat with 2-3 changes of water, the night before. Then I let them air-dry on a cotton cloth till the next day. Working with wet or damp Okra is a nightmare. The sabzi will turn out to be slimy and not so appetizing. So, ensure that you always clean and dry Okra in a proper manner before cutting and cooking them.
Secondly, for this particular recipe, the cooking part has to be done a particular way to get that heavenly charred texture, in addition to Okra being well-cooked from inside. I cook them covered, on medium-low heat till they look almost cooked, and then roast them uncovered on high heat to blacken the skin, turning them every 5 minutes. Easy-peasy!
So, here’s the recipe for a new variation of my fav ‘Lady-fingers’/okra/Bhindi ki sabzi for you. Give it a go, and enjoy! xx
For the Spice Powder-
Rai (Mustard seeds) – 25 grams
Methidana (Fenugreek seeds) – 5 grams
Kalonji (Nigella seeds)- 25 grams
Coriander powder- 50 grams
Amchoor (Mango powder) – 2 tablespoon
Kashmiri Red chilly powder- 2 teaspoon
Turmeric powder- 1 teaspoon
Salt- 1 tablespoon
A pinch of Asafoetida
Saunf (Fennel seeds)- 50 grams
500 grams Okra
2-3 tablespoon Mustard Oil or Vegetable Oil
A Shallow, non-stick pan.
Start by preparing the powder. Dry-roast the onion-seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds and mustard seeds separately and let them cool for sometime.
Next, in a blender, combine the dry spices to all the roasted spices and grind to a course powder. The spice mix for your Achari Bhindi is ready. Taste the powder and adjust the salt and Mango powder, as it is essential that the powder tastes tangy.
To make your sabzi, clean the Okra as mentioned above and air-dry completely before chopping.
Remove the cap and bottom parts of Okra and put a slit lengthwise in each Okra.
Stuff the dry spice mix in each slitted Okra to the brim and if you want, you can coat them lightly in the powder as well. Prepare all the bhindis this way. Store the left-over spice mix in an air-tight container for future use.
To make your bharwa bhindi, heat the oil in a shallow, non-stick pan.
Place each bhindi carefully in the sizzling oil and put the pan on medium-low heat. Cover for 7-8 minutes for the Okras to cook from within.
Once the Okras have softened, remove the lid and increase the flame to medium-high.
Keep turning the Okras till they have a nice,uniform crispy skin on all the sides.
Once the Okras are well-cooked and ready, switch off the flame and sprinkle one tea-spoon of the spice-mix over them, giving them a final mix before serving.
Serve immediately with hot ghee-smeared chapattis and dal. Enjoy!