If you are wondering about the multiple names for this dish it is good ole okra also known as Ladies Fingers out here (cos we ladies have beautiful slender fingers you see – just that they are not green in color) or “Ven-de-kai” in tamil. And if you are confused about “Ka-ra-ma-du”, well that what we Iyengars call our vegetable sides. We don’t address them as “poriyal” or “kari” at home….yep! that because local tamil also uses the word “curry” or “Kari” to refer to meat! Don’t know where it came from but we’d be hanged if we were to ask for “kari” at home to go with our rice 🙂
Now, okra is a lovely vegetable when it is fresh and tender and even more awesome when cooked right. When I say cooked right I am not referring to a slimy end product. And many people seem to have trouble with this vegetable for precisely this reason – it ends up becoming slimy and watery, generally going slithery niside our mouths! I just realised I made this lovely vegetable sound un-appetizing! So I want to make up by saying that the same vendekai when cooked right tastes awesome and really complements Indian home food. I for one have always loved it – only because my parents always took their time picking out the right type of okras (the okras shouldn’t be too old, as this leads to a horrible crunchy texture that will refuse to cook completely and leave little pearl like seeds in your mouth) and cooking them carefully so that they don’t get slimy. BTW picking out okra is a skill which I shall share with you some day….
I remember the days that my parents actually managed to grow these in pots at home thanks to which we could enjoy pure organic okra every now and them from our own mini garden – am referring to the collection of pots here 🙂 What I am going to share with you is a simple recipe as cooked in most Iyengar homes and devoured with rice and ghee or sambhar or rasam and even curd rice. Nothing like some good ole hot, tasty crunchy okra to make you smile during a meal…..this recipe does not use onion or garlic or even curry leaves which is how it is served in most restaurants and they are referred as “vendekai poriyal” – makes me go uggghhhh…….but that’s because I am pretty much used to eating okra the home way and can’t stand its taste or smell with onions and garlic when cooked the South Indian way (To clarify, I love onions and garlic and am not a vegetable racist in anyway). So here is how you can make that perfect Iyengar style ven-de-kai / okra karamadu at home
What you need
- 1 kg fresh okra – When cooked, Okra usually reduces so 1 kg usually serves about 3 adults and in some cases maybe 4.
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- A pinch of asfoetida
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1-2 tsp red chilli powder – Use more if you like more spice!
- 1 tsp urad dal
- salt per taste
Getting it done
- Wash and clean the okra and dry them well under a fan or at room temperature. You don’t want too much moisture on your vegetables – remember my references to a slimy end product? We want to avoid that.
- Now, select about 4-5 okras of almost the same length and place then next to each other on a cutting. Now that’s done just go “off with their heads!!” Ahem! I just got carried away, remembering the queen of hearts from Alice in wonderland…What I meant was carefully chop off the bulbous tops of the vegetables, referred to as the head of the okra.
- Now carefully slice the okra into small circles – as you reach the pointy bottom most part of the vegetable, stop cutting. We usually don’t eat the pointy “tail”
When your done chopping the okras, heat a good non-stick kadai and add the oil to it when its ready. If you are using a stainless kadai, just make sure you cook on low-medium heat to avoid the okras burning and cooking to the bottom half of the pan
- When the oil is hot enough, add the mustard seeds, asafoetida and urad dal. When the mustard starts spluttering and the urad dal starts turning golden brown add the chopped okra to the pan and give it a good stir.
- Add all the dry spices and some salt. Make sure your gas is on medium heat..
- Stir gently and just let it be – Do not add any water or keep stirring frequently. Check in on the okras every 5 minutes and stir once.
- In between stirs you will notice that the okras start oozing out a slimy juice – do not worry it is just their essence. Just make sure you stir the vegetables gently and leave them alone. Over zealous stirring will leave you with a slimy mush!
- If you are using an aluminium kadai, chances are that the okra would stick to the bottom of the pan. Please do not cover the kadai at any time to get these to cook fast or avoid the sticking to the pan – Just remember the slimy mush! In a scenario such as this one, just stir gently and if required add an additional drop of oil
- Allow the okra to cook, until it gets a little dry and maybe even browned. I would suggest a quick taste check at this point to ensure that the okra is no longer raw and for the correctness of salt.
Serve hot with some plain rice and ghee or any other dish that you mind pleases.