There are many dishes in our traditional Palakkad Iyer cuisine which require some time and effort to make, but most of the dishes which feature in our everyday cooking do not require much time to put together.
These dishes usually also require a minimal use of spices allowing the flavour and taste of the fresh vegetables to really come through.
Today’s post features one such dish. As the name suggests, Vendakkai (meaning okra) Vadakkinathu (meaning stir-fried) is stir-fried salted and lightly spiced okra. In India, okra is more commonly known as ladiesfinger, probably because of its long, slim and pointed shape.
Okra never used to be one of my favourite vegetables because the first came to mind when one thought of it was “slime”! Somehow, it also seemed that the short and very dark green variety of okra we used to get in Africa in those days seemed to have more than its fair share of that awful stuff.
The lighter green variety of okra that is locally available here is not as slimy and, in my opinion, much tastier. Of course, this variety is seasonal and what we get throughout the year is a darker coloured variety of okra which isn’t as bad as the ones which feature in my childhood memories.
Indian cooking, on the whole, ensures, that the slime of okra is taken care of and doesn’t appear in whatever dish it gets cooked. This is done by using certain acidic/ souring ingredients like tamarind, tomato, lime juice or yogurt/ buttermilk.
I accidentally discovered that cutting the okra and leaving it uncovered at room temperature, for about half an hour or so, and then cooking it also ensures that the slime disappears like magic.
Okra is still not a vegetable I would pick over others, but I have grown to like it in dishes where some sort of stir-frying it is involved. This particular okra dish is my favourite way of cooking the vegetable.
Here, the slime cooks away leaving the okra well cooked, a bit soft and showing the beginnings of crispness from stir-frying. Add the taste of caramelized onions to this mix and the result is delicious.
The really traditional way of cooking okra in this recipe would be without the onions. We quite like the taste that the caramelized onion lends to this preparation, so I tend to use them most times I cook this stir-fry.
I have had this post in my drafts for a while, but it took a tweet from a foodie friend asking for suggestions to cook okra to remind me that it was about time I published it.
Vendakkai Vathakkinathu (Indian Style Stir-fried Okra)
1/2 kg okra
3 big onions, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp oil (coconut oil, if you like)
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 1/2 tbsp black gram lentils (urad dal)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chilli powder (adjust to taste)
salt to taste
a sprig of curry leaves
Wash and dry the okra well, then trim both ends. Slice the okra into pieces, about 1/2 cm thick. Keep the sliced okra aside, spread on a plate and uncovered, for about half an hour.
In a wok, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the lentils and sauté till they turn golden brown. Add the onions and curry leaves and sauté, over medium heat, till the onions turn soft and golden in colour.
Add the okra, turmeric and chilli powders and salt and stir everything so the okra is uniformly coated with the salt and spice. Stir fry, stirring constantly, on high heat for a couple of minutes. Then turn down the heat to low and allow the okra to cook till done and slightly crisp and beginning to turn brown in places.
Stir the okra occasionally while it cooks, but make sure it doesn’t break up and retains its shape.
Serve hot as a side dish along with rice and lentils, or chappathis. This recipe serves 3 to 4.