In the days of yore, one of the pre-tests to tell an instinctive cook from a laboured one was to see how one handled okras (lady fingers in common parlance, bhindi in more endearing ones). If you were the kind of person who chopped them and then washed them, out you went, scoring zero on ten. If you, on the other hand, rinsed the bhindis, laid them out on newspaper sheets, and gently dried then, nudging collective contact with the paper, you scored 7 on 10. And if you, like the more fastidious but rare breed, dried them one at a time with a kitchen roll, you scored a perfect ten.
Whatever the case, the mucilage is the bane of the bhindi’s existence…or its redemption, depending on how you look at it. For instance, while volunteering at WSD, boiled bhindi was commonly added to dog food and mashed, for those canines suffering from constipation—it always worked, even closer home for my cats.
One of the things I like about bhindi (apart from the fact that it is one of two vegetables that the husband likes) is the fact that they remind me of real people—they are thin, fat, tall, short, fair, dark, happy, grumpy, and seem to have faces… and their hexagonal contours seem to have an attitude of their own. Remember how in the craft class, the closest resemblance to people in a vegetable skit was Mr. Ladyfinger?
They always talk to me. Depending on their shape or size, they seem to say, okay, I have gotten a little corpulent here, so make sure you camouflage me well. Or, I am so tender and green, so please do as little as you can to me.
Personally, I like them thin and wiry, as I like my men. Also, like I hate disfiguring a perfectly good lady finger, I also like to eat them as whole as I can. So the traditional bhindi subzi doesn’t quite work for me, although being the seasoned Tam bram that I am, Vendakkai Pachadi is something I wish I had inherited from the parents. All my mother handed me down was a quickie yoghurt variant of it, which works pretty well, although the tamarind version is to be inhaled to be believed.
Bhindi raita (courtesy the mother)
Bhindi: 200 gm
Ginger, a medium sized piece, julienned
Green chillies; 2, juliennned
Wash and dry bhindis. Chop them really thin and set aside.
In a non-stick pan, heat a tablespoon of oil, add rai, allow to splutter, and then a pinch of hing, and then the ginger and chilly juliennes and mix well.
Add the bhindi to this, salt to taste, and fry well on a low flame will crisp. Cool. Set aside.
In a bowl, whisk 250 gm of dahi to smoothen lumps, and add the fried bhindi mixture to it. Serve immediately as an accompaniment to rice or rotis.
Bhindi aloo with garlic (courtesy Manish, my sindhi foodie colleague)
2 large potatoes, sliced vertically
Bhindi : 200 gm, cut into 2inch pieces and then slit vertically
Garlic : 6-7 cloves
Green chillies: 2-3
Salt to taste
Peel the garlic cloves and slice the chillies and crush them with a bit of salt using a mortar pestle
Heat some oil in a pan and add the chilly garlic mixture, and then add the bhindis and aloo, salt to taste, mix well
Cook on a slow flame, stirring occasionally till well done.
Serve hot with chapatis or dal-chaval