Friday, 17 March 2017

Bhindi Kalonji – Okra with Indian spices

Photo Courtesy: Dr. Debarshi Chatterji
Recipe Courtesy: Mamma

Bhindi Kalonji or Okra with Indian spices is one of the most common side dishes prepared in North Indian households. This simple torkari (fried vegetables) tastes best with plain Paratha but I also love it with some steamed rice and dal. The best part is, since this dish does not use any onion or garlic, it can be prepared with very less oil. Traditionally, to prepare Kalonji, a slit is made in the vegetables (like Okra or Eggplant) and the spices are filled in it. The vegetables are then fried till they are cooked. This approach works great with eggplants, as they are bigger in size hence filling the spices in them is much easier. Follow the same procedure with a slender okra and it turns into a time consuming process. I follow a much simpler method where instead of stuffing the okra with spices I just cut them in half lengthwise and fry them with the spices. This helps to cut down the preparation time and the dish still tastes amazing because the frying dries the sliminess of the okra.

Bhindi or Lady Finger as we call it in India is one of my favorite veggies. You will be surprised to know that no one in my family loves Bhindi like I do and it looks like, I inherited my love for this green vegetable from my Papa (my maternal grand father) who loved to have Bhindi Bhaja (deep fried Okra) in his lunch menu. It almost makes me nostalgic to remember our lunch at grand ma’s house. I was just a kid back then and I used to be so surprised with the elaborate lunch menu they used to plan for us. There would be bowls and bowls of different types of food involving several courses and although my Didubhai (maternal Grand ma) used to cook everything else, before we could compliment her for anything, Papa would jump in and he would start fishing for compliments about the goat curry he prepared. Everyone used to laugh and then we would all talk and eat and have a great time. It used to feel like Thanksgiving with all that food and family members all around and now whenever I cook Bhindi, I remember Papa and all those family meals we had together.

Anyway, coming back to the topic, for this recipe we will be using a spice mix which consists of 5 different spices – Methi (Fenugreek Seeds), Saunf (Fennel Seeds), Kalonji (Nigella Seeds), Dry Red Chilies, Amchur (Dry Mango Powder) and Salt. We will first dry roast the spices and then grind them coarsely. This will bring that fresh flavor and aroma in the dish. Also, we will be using Mustard oil to cook this torkari which will help to bring that rustic flavor in the dish.

Preparing okra dishes is tricky so read my tips carefully and enjoy this rustic torkari with some hot crispy Parathas.

Bon Appetit!

  • Okra: 1 small bag (about 20 Okras), do not use the pre-chopped frozen bags
  • Fenugreek Seeds – ½ teaspoon
  • Fennel Seeds – 2 tablespoons
  • Nigella Seeds – 1 and ½ teaspoons
  • Dry Red Chilli – 2 pieces 
  • Dry Mango Powder – 1 tablespoon
  • Salt – to taste (about ½ teaspoon)
  • Turmeric powder – ½ teaspoon 
  • Green chilies – 2 (optional), broken in half
  • Mustard Oil - 2 tablespoons

Lets Prep:
  • Wash the Okra and let the water drain out completely. Spread it on a plate and pat it dry. Leave it for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the heads and tails of Okras.
  • Now cut each Okra into half lengthwise. Also, keep an eye out for worms, they are not very common but better to be safe.

Let’s prepare the Kalonji Spice Mix:
  • Take a wide pan or skillet and heat it over medium heat.
  • Add all the whole spices (Fenugreek Seeds, Fennel Seeds, Nigella Seeds and Dry Red Chilies)
  • Dry roast the spices for 2-3 minutes, keep moving them in the skillet after every couple of seconds. 
  • You will see that the spices will start changing color, they will darken a bit and smell roasted. That means you can take them off the heat and transfer them to your grinder/ Nutri bullet and let them cool (about 5-10 minutes).
  • Grind the roasted spices until a course powder is formed. 
  • Kalonji Spice Mix is ready. You can now use it to prepare the dish. 
  • You can also prepare a little extra spice mix and store it in an airtight container to use it later on. Label the container clearly that the mix contains only the aforementioned spices.

Directions to prepare the Bhindi Kalonji:
  • Heat a wok on medium high heat.
  • Add the Mustard Oil in it. When the oil begins to smoke, reduce the heat to medium low so that it cools off a bit. This is done to remove the pungent taste and smell of the Mustard Oil.
  • Increase the heat to medium and if you are adding Green Chilies then this is the time to add them in the oil.
  • Add the Okra in it. Medium heat will ensure a longer cooking time and it will dry up the sliminess of the Okra pieces. Also, do not cover the pan while cooking, it will make the Okra slimier. 
  • Once the Okra looks a little fried add the Kalonji Spice Mix in it along with the Dry Mango Powder, Salt and Turmeric powder and mix well.
  • Reduce the heat to medium low and keep stirring occasionally. The torkari should be ready in about 10-12 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and cover the wok for 2-3 minutes.
  • Serve hot with crisp plain Parathas or Rice and Dal.

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