Suki Bhaji Okra (North Indian Okra Stir Fry)
Okra is native to West Africa and was brought to the United States by enslaved Africans. It became a popular soul food in the south. However, the use of okra is not widespread in rest of the US.
Okra is believed to have come to India via the Middle East. In this tropical country okra thrived and became a popular feature in many Indian recipes with regional variations.
Okra is colorful, dainty, nutritious, and tasty when cooked right. Okra’s nutritional profile is very impressive. One cup of cooked okra contains 3 grams of protein, 147 mgs calcium and 1.18 mgs iron. These essential nutrients are often difficult to find in vegetables.
When cooked, okra has mucilaginous characteristics that works for or against a dish depending on the recipe. For example, in a gumbo recipe, okra’s sliminess is essential to create a thick sauce. However, in many Indian recipes, the stickiness is not desirable. So, there are a number of techniques in Indian cuisine to remove the sliminess of okra such as by deep frying in a batter, or by stuffing them with spices and flour or dry fruits, or by stir- frying as in suki bhaji (dry/cooked vegetables) as shown here.
When selecting okra, choose young, tender and firm green pods. For this recipe, okras should not be washed, but instead pat-cleaned with a wet kitchen towel.
30 pods of okra, cleaned with a damp cloth, tips removed and cut into four pieces, length wise
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
3 green onions (scallions) cut into half, lengthwise, including some green parts
1 semi-hot fresh pepper such as the Anaheim or Poblano pepper, cut into thin slices
l tomato, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon each turmeric, coriander powder, cumin powder and salt
Few pinches of cayenne, optional
Juice of ½ lime or lemon
Few sprigs of chopped cilantro leaves
Heat oil over moderate heat and add the mustard seeds. Allow them to pop for a minute and then add the onion and pepper slices. Stir fry for a few minutes and then add the tomato. Keep stirring until tomatoes form lumps. Add the okra slices. Add the salt and the powder spices and continue to stir fry so that the okra is completely cooked using the juices of the vegetables. Sprinkle the lime or lemon juice all over the top. Correct seasoning adding the optional cayenne and more salt if needed. Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice or bread.
This recipe is modified from Shanta’s cook book “Cooking Together: A Vegetarian Co-op Cookbook”, Copyright © 2017 by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff. Shanta’s books are available in San Francisco at Other Avenue Food Co-op, Rainbow Grocery Co-op, Green Apple Book Store, Folio Book Store, Omnivore Books, Book Passage and in Sausalito at Drivers Market. You can also order her books through books.google.com, www.greenapplebooks.com , or www.instacart.com/rainbow-grocery
Shanta is a co-founder of Other Avenues Food Cooperative, where she worked for over three decades. Currently retired from that job, Shanta writes recipes and articles on food and nutrition. She demonstrates vegetarian recipes and teaches cooking classes in S.F.