My slimy old pal, stuffed

Stuffed okra

Stuffed

Here is a riddle for all you wonderful folks. Two cousins. One is hairy, one is slimy. I have talked about the hairy one quite a bit recently. The slimy one doesn’t get much love because many people object to its sliminess. Fear not! There are many ways to make it unobjectionable.

Here is the hairy one. And here is the slimy one. Both from the mallow family.
Cousins

OK I have dragged this one out enough. Of course, the hairy one is cotton. But the slimy one is the subject of today’s recipe — okra. The slime is a form of soluble fiber that has many benefits, from slowing absorption of glucose (diabetics take note) to capturing toxic bile and helping with constipation.

Now okra is often not popular. When I mentioned to my husband that okra and cotton were from the same plant family, he said, ‘no wonder okra tastes like cotton’. Funny guy.

But here’s the thing. You can do one of several things. You can use okra in recipes that absolutely thrive on its sliminess and use it to give cohesion to soups and stews. Like gumbo. Or, you can fry and crisp it up. Once you do that, no one would guess at the great gobs of sticky runny goo that normally erupts out of okra pods.

Or, you could do this.

Okra stuffed with spices (Bharela bhindi)

For this dish, the okra pods are left whole. A slit is made along the length of the pod with a paring knife, taking care to leave a pocket, not bust through to the other side. Stuff the pocket full of spices. Fry it. This process seems to dissolve the sliminess as well and makes it a delicious meal with some roti or rice and dal on the side.

While picking okra one has to be careful to pick the very young pods, where the ribs have not turned fibrous and woody (once that happens, there is no going back, and you will not enjoy eating them). A gentle squeeze while selecting them at the market will tell you if the pods are still young. The pods I found at the farmers market are from a variety that has been bred to have minimal ribs, and can be left on the plant longer without risk of turning woody. Nevertheless, I did find one or two that had, and I discarded them.

Pound of okra pods

Pound of okra pods

Whole spices

Whole spices

Roasting spices

Roasting spices

All spices mixed in a bowl

All spices mixed in a bowl

Pocket

Pocket

Stuffing the pocket

Stuffing the pocket

Stuffed and ready to go

Stuffed and ready to go

Frying

Frying

Add onion

Add onion

Done

Done

Stuffed okra/bharela bhindi

Ingredients for the spice mix:
  • 2 teaspoons whole coriander
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
  • 2 whole red chilies, more if you like
  • 1 teaspoon dry mango powder (aamchur)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon asafetida
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili (if you want more heat) or paprika (for color and flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Ingredients for okra
  • 1 pound okra pods
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1/4 onion, sliced (optional)
Method

Roast the whole spices from coriander to red chilies in a thick-bottomed pan, just until an aroma arises. Take it off the heat, wait a few minutes for them to cool and grind in a clean coffee grinder. Now mix in the powdered spices from the dry mango powder to the salt.

Wash and completely dry the okra. Take off the very top, the hat that looks like a beanie where the okra is attached to the stem. Using a sharp paring knife, make a slit along the length of the pod, stopping a little short on both ends, to make a pocket. Fill each okra with the spice mixture. A small spoon is very helpful for this. Then using your fingertips, spread spices nicely inside the pocket.

Once all the okra pods have been stuffed, heat the oil in a wide, thick-bottomed pan. When it shimmers, lay the okra pods flat in a single layer. Let them cook on medium-high heat for 10 to 15 minutes until each side is browned. Once in a while give them a turn with tongs or a spoon. Mostly just leave them be.

When they look pretty much browned, squished and done, throw in the onions. The onions only need to cook for a minute or two, the hot pan will soften them quickly. They do not need to brown. Turn off and cover the pan for a few minutes to allow the steam to finish the job.


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An early summer beverage

Spiced buttermilk

Spiced buttermilk with cilantro flower

Summer has come early to San Francisco this year; sometimes it feels like it never left. With climate change looming, this is not as good news as it might seem. But let’s not worry our pretty little food-blogging heads about this just yet and cool off with this yogurt beverage.

Spiced buttermilk: Neeru majjige

This is another specialty from the southern state of Karnataka from my friend Rashmi. Just think — instead of reaching for a sugary soda you could cool down with a tall glass of spicy yogurty neeru majjige. Better to taste and way better for your body.

Ingredients for Neeru Majjige

All the ingredients

Blend it

Blend it

Strain it

Strain it

Squeeze dry

Squeeze this stuff dry

Spiced buttermilk

Done – spiced buttermilk

Spiced Buttermilk (Neeru Majjige)

Ingredients:
  • A cup of yogurt
  • A cup to cup and a half water
  • Quarter inch ginger
  • Half a green chili
  • Few sprigs cilantro
  • Quarter teaspoon salt
Method:

Simpler than simple. Blend all the ingredients together. Strain it. Squeee–eeee-ze the green remains dry. The mixture is a pale green, the squeezing will drip delicious light green drops on it. Refrigerate for half hour if you like.

Garnish with a sprig of cilantro, or like I did, a cilantro flower from the garden.

Coconut-yogurty thing from South India

Palladya with rice

Palladya with rice

The other day a friend — Rashmi by name — casually popped in a comment about a ¢#&!Ω# she makes at home, called palladya. Apparently it is similar to the kadhis of the north.

What?! Why have I never heard of this before? Me — a connoisseur of all kadhis everywhere, or so I thought? Why have you kept this secret from me all these years, Rashmi? I thought we were friends. We exchange stories about kids, husbands and various other things. And yet, you kept this from me? Sniff.

Anyway, now that the secret is out, I am glad to have been introduced to this concoction. It is a soupy thing that uses yogurt as a base just like the kadhis of the north, but instead of using chickpea flour for thickening, it uses ground coconut. Floaters are vegetables, a set similar to the ones in this kadhi from Sindh. Some typical ones are okra, white pumpkin/melon (this one), and other squashes. Ever the iconoclast, I used cauliflower; always trying to fit in at the same time, I used baby squashes (this one).

Palladya

This was my first time making it, you can see how it turned out. We had it with rice and it was yummy. Next time I will try to get a finer grind on the coconut by first grating it. And souring the yogurt by leaving it out all day before using it is a tip from Rashmi I didn’t have time to use, but I will next time.

Soaking channa dal, collecting coconut and spices for grinding

Soaking channa dal, collecting coconut and spices for grinding


The grind, should try to get a finer one next time

The grind, should try to get a finer one next time

Cauliflower

Cauliflower

Frozen tinda (apple gourd)

Frozen tinda (apple gourd)

Cuppa yogurt

Cuppa yogurt

Stovetop

Stovetop

Tempering

Tempering

Palladya: kadhi from South India

Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons channa dal, soaked for half hour in hot water
  • Half a coconut, grated, or 1 cup frozen
  • 3 or more fresh green chilies
  • 1 inch piece of ginger
  • 1 cup yogurt or buttermilk, soured
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets
  • 1 cup summer squash cubed (I used apple gourd/tinda)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 6 or so curry leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons sesame oil (substitute with any oil)
Method

Grind the drained channa dal, coconut, chilies and ginger together. You will need to add some water in order to get a fine grind, I ended up adding about half a cup. Do try to grate your coconut before throwing into the blender, that way you are more assured of getting it to turn into a smooth paste.

Put the veggies in a pot combined with the coconut paste, salt and some water. Bring to a boil, covered. In about 20 minutes of cooking at a simmer, covered, the vegetables will be more or less cooked. Poke with a knife to make sure.

If so, whip up the yogurt and add it to the pot. Stir, this only needs to heat through. Now the tempering. Heat the oil in a small, thick-bottomed pan. Throw in the mustard seeds when it shimmers; wait for it to pop. When they pop, throw in the curry leaves. When they look shriveled, turn off, pour the oil and spices into the palladya, and stir.