What is it about bhindi that makes it such a favourite in my home? I can only think of the different ways my mother cooks it.
Sometimes whole bhindi stuffed with masala and sautéed till crisp.. sometimes sliced into roundels and deep-fried then turned into a raita, and.. of course the delicious bhindi anardana which has the sourness of dry anardana plus the sweetness of fresh pomegranate pearls. She then garnishes the dish lavishly with these red kernels and it looked so attractive.
The love for bhindi grew in my childhood and has been passed on to my daughters.
Alyona, my wife, makes a stir-fry for which she sautés sliced bhindi with garlic, hing and a little methi, adding turmeric,
coriander and red chilli powders for more flavour. A sprinkling of lemon juice and it is served, piping hot, on the table. When it is accompanied by kadhi chawal, it’s simply divine.
What’s in a name?
There has been some confusion about the correct English name for bhindi. Is it lady’s fingers, ladyfingers or okra?
Ladyfinger is also a longish, crisp sponge cake known as boudoir biscuits in Europe. These are used extensively in desserts, puddings and tiramisu.
Lady’s finger is a popular vegetable in many countries but it is better known there as okra.
In Greece and Turkey, you will easily find the vegetable in thick meat stews. I distinctly remember in Laredo, on the Mexican border, I had a bhindi pakora.. the young tender pods of okra slit lenthways, dipped in egg coated with corn meal and deep-fried.
Young tender pods can also be stuffed with a spicy dry mix of masalas, dipped in besan batter and deep-fried. Even the Japanese love their okra tempura.
Have you ever seen a bhindi flower? In big cities it is impossible to see one unless you sow a few bhindi seeds in your potted garden and wait for the plant to bloom.
The flowers look like hibiscus because they from the same botanical family. The only difference is that the bhindi flowers are large and yellow which later become the tender green pods with sticky slime.
Bhindi, though a summer vegetable, is available for the most part of the year. If you plan to check the freshness of bhindi, snap off a little of the tip. If it breaks easily, buy it. Also, pick in medium-sized pods that are a rich green colour with a velvety finish. Avoid pods that are dull and dry looking, yellowing, blemished or limp. Large pods are too woody and anything you make with them will not be tasty.
Store bhindi in a paper bag in the warmest part of refrigerator, as temperatures below 45°C can damage the pods. It does not store well, so use within two to three days at the most.
As bhindi is water absorbent, it is best to wash it just when ready to use.
Wipe dry before chopping. Remove head and tail, which is something my daughters chip in to do, then fascinate themselves by sticking the heads on their ring fingers for fun.
While chopping or slitting, always keep a wary eye for lurking worms. When cooking bhindi, remember that the more it is cut, the slimier it will become. Also, cooking it in an aluminum kadai might discolour it.
I have one more plus point for bhindi: it is low in calories and fat and is a very good source of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. Only just don’t douse it in oil while cooking.
(The writer is a master chef, author and television host. Email at enquiry@ sanjeevkapoor.com)