It was at my new favorite restaurant Jaipur I fell in love with bhindi bhaji.
Of course, I’d had bhindi bhaji before. (Bhindi bhaji is a “dry” curry- a dish without a sauce or gravy; something you’d eat with bread, not rice.) It’s a very popular vegetarian main dish, although it can also be served as a side item.
But the bhindi I’d had before was almost too dry – or else too overcooked and mushy. And although I love spicy food, usually I found the spices used too aggressive, masking instead of enhancing the taste of the okra.
At Jaipur, however, it was different. More stir-fried than dried out, the okra still very slightly crisp instead of mush. And the spices were subtle, allowing the taste of the okra to shine. My partner and I demolished the dish – there were no leftovers. And I came home determined to replicate it.
Note: Bhindi/okra can be found in most grocery stores year-round in the American South. Indian grocery stores also carry an abundant supply of okra throughout the year. Peak season for okra is from May through October – look for it then at farmer’s markets. Choose small, bright green pods without “age spots.” Store in a paper bag in the refrigerator and cook within a few days.
Ingredients for Bhindi Bhaji:
About 1 pound Fresh Okra
1 TBL Vegetable Oil
1/2 tsp Cumin Seeds
1 Medium Onion, diced
1-2 Green Chilis, chopped finely
2 Roma Tomatoes, diced
1 tsp minced or grated Fresh Ginger
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1/2 tsp Red Chili Powder
1 tsp Coriander
1 tsp Sea Salt
1/2 tsp Garam Masala
Chopped Fresh Cilantro, for garnishing
Directions for Bhindi Bhaji:
First, wash the okra. Okra can be slimy if you cut it while it’s wet, so either leave the okra to drain and dry in a colander for several hours, or carefully wipe each pod dry with a dish towel.
This recipe moves fast once you start cooking, so next I like to prep all my ingredients – chop the chilis, tomatoes, onions, and mince or grate the ginger. I then measure and combine the turmeric, chili powder, and coriander.
Chop the okra once it is dry. I like to cut off the tops and tails – although many people leave them on.
And then slice into coins. You should wind up with 2-3 cups sliced okra. Set aside.
Now, it’s time to start cooking! Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and let them splutter and brown, 20-30 seconds. Then add the onions and chilis. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the ginger and cook for another few minutes.
Add tomatoes and the turmeric, chili powder, and coriander. Mix.
Cook until the tomatoes have softened – another 3-4 minutes.
Add the sliced okra and mix well, making sure the okra is evenly coated in the masala mixture. Stir-fry for a minute or two, then reduce heat slightly, cover, and cook until okra is deep/bright green, tender but not soggy – about 6-8 minutes. There’s no need to add water – the okra will release moisture as it cooks. Stir occasionally to keep the okra from sticking to the pan. Add a touch more oil, if needed, to prevent burning.
When okra is almost done, add the salt and garam masala. Stir and cook, uncovered, for another minute or so. (Keep the lid off the pan from this point on, to avoid sogginess.)
Garnish with a large handful of chopped cilantro. Best served with roti and unsweetened yogurt – although I’ve devoured bowls of this plain, without bread!