One of my favorite quick meals that tastes like it took ages to make is bhindi masala. “Bhindi” is the Hindi word for ladyfinger AKA okra, and masala, as you probably already know, simply means warm spices. I use a superior pre-ground organic blend that I ordered through our local co-op from Frontier.
As a quick aside, I’ve found that it is much easier to find reliable indian recipes on google if one searches using Hindi rather than the english equivalents. (Check out this glossary for some ideas.) That’s how I found my favorite bhindi masala recipe, located here at Tara Shetty’s long-abandoned blogspot. Here’s a picture of tonight’s dinner:
Since I’ve already linked to the recipe, let me use my space here to counsel you all on selecting okra. Yes, I know it is almost out-of-season, so just keep this in mind for next year…unless of course you live in the glorious southern USA states, where it is available fresh in supermarkets year-round.
I grew up in the south–northwest Georgia, for those who don’t know–and I watched my parents grow okra, helped ’em harvest it, and now plant my own. And so I learned early on, from my maternal grandmother, I think, how to pick okra. In the US and abroad, okra is also called “lady’s finger” or ladyfinger for short.
F-ed up gender & body notions aside, consider that some of the folks who first started calling it “ladyfinger” were likely the people who harvested it in the field. Most of us are so divorced from the growing processes of our food these days that we forget that it comes from farmers who have their own notions about the world and their own intimate connection with their plants. These farmers may have tagged the okra “lady’s finger” because okra tastes best when it is picked at about two inches in length, i.e, about the length of an average woman’s pinky finger. Allowed to grow much longer, the seeds get tremendous and the texture woody–only good for a heavily stewed gumbo, if that.
For best flavor, okra should be picked when it is young and tender. Both genders can judge a good piece of okra at the market by holding it up against the little finger. If it’s much longer, throw it back–it’ll be dry, woody, and the seeds, pearls. If it’s smaller, bag it and find its friends!