As a child, the vegetables I disliked made up a rather long list, and okra (or ladies’ fingers as we call them in India) was somewhere on the top. My parents despaired of making me eat my vegetables on some days more than others. As a way of ensuring we ate our quota of vegetables regularly, my father had a meal time rule that we had to eat whatever our mother cooked for the day. To be fair to her, I must mention my mother was an excellent cook. I still have cousins and my friends from childhood reminisce about how good her food was.
That didn’t mean that I was happy with my father at meal times and I rebelled at every opportunity I got. This made for some rather uncomfortable meal times back then but we grew up to become reasonably unfussy eaters though I’ve still retained some of my vegetable dislikes.
Looking back, I now realise what put me off okra was its inherent slime. We lived in West Africa for some part of my childhood, and the okra we used to get there was of a particularly slimy variety. The cuisine there had a very locally popular and extremely slimy okra stew/ soup that I found revolting to watch people eat.
However, a lot of time has gone by since those days, I have slowly gotten to like okra provided they’re cooked as a dry recipe, preferably pan fried, and with absolutely no gravy. Luckily for me, the Indian varieties of okra have much less slime and out here, we mostly cook okra making sure the “sliminess” disappears during the cooking process.
One way I like eating okra, is in the Northern/ Western Indian way of stuffing them with spices and then pan frying them till done. I’m from the South and we don’t cook okra this way. Bhindi Sambhariya is a Gujarati dish, and Gujarath is a state in Western India that’s a vegetarian food paradise. Bhindi is the word for okra and I’m not sure what the “Sambhariya” really means and someone on the net had mentioned it refers to the method of stir-frying. When I asked around someone else mentioned that it probably referred to the spices that are stuffed into the vegetable.
As Shakespeare once said, “What’s in a name?……..”, and this is a dish, in my opinion, that is so good that the only thing the name does for it is to identify and describe it. Bhindi Sambhariya is made with tender and small sized okra (ideally the length of one’s forefinger or thereabouts) which are slit and filled with a mix of various spices and coconut. They’re then pan fried/ cooked until done.
Bhindi Sambhariya - Gujrathi Style Stuffed & Pan Fried Okra (GF, V)
For the Filling :
- 1/3 cup coconut fresh grated
- 1/4 cup coriander finely chopped (leaves and tender stems) packed
- 2 tsps sugar
- 1 tsp ginger paste (or finely grated )
- 1 tsp green chilli paste (or finely chopped es)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 1/2 tsps coriander powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds white
- 2 tbsps peanuts crushed toasted (optional)
- 2 tsps lime juice
- to taste salt
For the Sambhariya :
- 20 to 30 okra small
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp asafoetida
- Mix together the ingredients for the filling in a bowl and keep aside. It will be somewhat crumbly and a little moist in texture.
- Start by washing the okra well. Pat them dry. Then trim the tops off the okra and them, using a short and sharp knife, make one slit lengthwise from the top towards the pointed tip just short of it. Make sure the tip is not cut through and that you do not cut through to the other side. You should be able to open up each okra, stuff it and close it.
- Fill each slit okra with a little filling, press it to close it a bit and keep aside. Be reasonably generous with the filling but not so generous that the okra break. If you have any filling left over, keep it aside.
- Heat the oil in a large pan or wok. Add the mustard seeds and when they splutter turn down the heat and add the asafoetida. Stir a couple of times but do not let it burn. Place the filled okra in the pan or wok and turn down the heat a bit. Let them cook for about 5 to 10 minutes. Gently turn over the okra one by one, and let them cook for another 5 minutes or so. Sprinkle the left over filling if any, cover the pan and let this cook for another 5 minutes. Remove the cover, and turn the okra over gently. Let them cook for 5 minutes more uncovered or till done.
- Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot on the side with rice or chappathis.