Thanks to this year’s long, hot summer, we still have delicious okra around. The weather is cooling off, though — so not for long.
Okra, aka lady fingers, is as ubiquitous in my native India as it is here in the southern United States. It is the first green vegetable I ate as a child, and I was known to have an insatiable appetite for it. Bhindi (as it is called in Hindi) has plenty of fiber and nutrients, and it’s wonderful cooked with different spices, such as cumin or fennel. It does have a mucilaginous (slimy) quality when cooked over a long period — as you would for gumbo — but this can be minimized by stir frying, deep frying or roasting.
My favorite simple way to prepare okra is to slice it in ½-inch wheels, stir-fry and top with salt, amchur (dried mango powder) and crushed fennel seeds. Another downside of okra, however, is that for it to turn out crisp and succulent, it practically “drinks” oil — so use good-quality oil, and be generous with it.
This okra stuffed with a potato masala makes a delicious side or main dish. You can do the work ahead of time and pop them in the oven 10-12 minutes before serving. The yogurt can be served on the okra or on the side.
makes servings for 6
1 pound okra
6-7 tablespoons olive oil
2½ teaspoons salt
1½ cups minced onions
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon chili powder
1½ cups grated cooked red potato (see note)
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin (see note)
2 teaspoons honey (optional)
Slit the okra lengthwise from top to bottom without breaking in half. Rub with 2-3 tablespoons of oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Set aside.
In a small frying pan, heat 4 tablespoons of oil. Add the minced onions and cook them until they are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then take pan off the heat. Stir in sesame seeds, turmeric, ground chili and 1 teaspoon of salt. Peel and grate the potato and add it to the onion mixture. Taste to ensure it has adequate salt and seasoning.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Stuff each okra with a little bit of the stuffing and lay them flat on a greased baking sheet with the stuffed side up.
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until okra appears to be done. Take the tray out of the oven and cut one with a knife to check. They will continue cooking as they cool down so be careful not to overcook them or the okra will turn slimy.
ideas / variations
Buy young, tender okra — if they are even slightly tough, they will not be good for stuffing.
Roast potatoes in the oven on a baking sheet uncovered at 300 degrees for 1-1½ hours. They make a good addition to your refrigerator; use them with scrambled eggs in the morning or roasted in the oven for dinner.
To roast cumin, toast some seeds on a dry skillet over a hot stove for 2-3 minutes tossing frequently. They will give off an aroma. Take them off the heat, let them cool off and grind in a small coffee grinder. If you don’t have a grinder, you can use jarred ground cumin.
For a cheesy version, substitute the potato for a combination of melting and goat cheese.
For a carnivore version, substitute the potato for cooked ground meat (beef, chicken or lamb).