Come summer, my okra plants come to life and bestow me with their bounty. The wonderful quality of these plants is that they don’t demand much in return, in terms of care. Bugs don’t bother these plants either, so, barring the occasional attack of ants that visit the plants to consume the aphids, the plants and their produce, are pretty much predator-free.
Several years back, as rookie back-yard gardeners, we’d planted a dozen okra plants, not knowing how much they’d yield. By July-August, we were swimming in okras! I picked them, pickled them, made various types of okra dishes, offered friends to come pick them (most of them refused since they didn’t want to be consumed by mosquitoes that were rampant that one particular year), chopped and froze them for the winter months, since organic okra is either hard to find in grocery stores, or cost a bombshell.
Slowly, we figured that “less is more” with okra. This year, we planted 3-4 plants, and they are yielding enough to drive me crazy sometimes, and to share with other okra lovers. While none of the other plants, except for yard-long beans, demand attention from me, the okra plants are crying out every morning – to be picked. If I get busy and don’t get to picking them for 24 hours, boy, they are grown into their huge, stubborn, cranky oldselves that are so mature and tough, that I have to chop them up small so my compost worms (I was told by a teen that we were hosting, that they are called wriggler worms) can devour them.
There is an adage in the gardener community that you must plant only what you love to eat. And that’s so true. When these high yield plants start to produce, there’s no stopping them. And thankfully, we are total okra lovers. I love okra dishes in any form – North Indian, South Indian, and really, there’s nothing in between because other cultures around the world don’t seem to care for this “ladies finger” as they are called in some parts of the world. Yes, there’s gumbo from the state of Louisiana, but gumbo is a meat dish, so out of bounds for me, and okra is, but a small component of this southern recipe.
You probably hate okra because of its sliminess. You probably are one of those that think the best way to mitigate okra’s slime is to batter and deep-fry it. You are also probably one of those that thinks that a LOT of oil is needed to make tasty okra dishes. On the contrary!
The truth is, okra needs two main things to be outstanding: It needs to be de-slimed, and it needs fresh, assertive spices to augment its mildly peppery flavor. Only one dish nails both these imperatives, and that dish is bhendi masala, the okra curry native to the Punjab region of India.
Making good bhendi masala is actually an easy process: First, you fry the seedy, misunderstood vegetable until it’s brown and fully tender. Then you make a tomato-based sauce—in this case, with lots of spices (try to use freshly powdered spices) added. Finally, you fold everything together. It may seem like a well-integrated stew, but really the principal vegetable is cooked separately from the other ingredients to keep it from getting slimy or soggy. This is a dish where different parts are perfected separately and then combined into a cohesive whole.
If you want to try yet another okra recipe, check out our Baked Okra.