Okra: You know it, I love it, you probably hate it. Before the pineapple on pizza debate divided the food world (100% Team Pineapple here), people were arguing about okra. The spiky husks, slimy innards, and tough texture when overripe are all reasons to hate the little guys, and people are quick to tell you that okra is their least favorite vegetable. BUT! Hold out on your opinion because I’m here to change your mind with this okra curry.
Okra grows very well down here in the South, and we grow a lot of it. Most folks pickle or fry it, and those in Louisiana use it as a gumbo thickener. But while it seems like a down-home country vegetable you’d find at the state fair, this isn’t native to the Southern US by any stretch of the imagination. It was brought over somewhere around the 17th century, likely from Africa with the slave trade. Experts can’t agree, but can assume that it originates in either West Africa, Ethiopia, or South Asia. It thrives in tropical or sub-tropical weather, and welcomes heat and drought. This makes it ideal for all of the above locations, and explains why it’s found in their cuisines.
When I started forming the idea for an okra curry, I actually wasn’t aware that it was a dish from Northern India. I was just operating with the knowledge that okra gives gumbo a silky, thick mouthfeel, and thought the same could be done with Indian flavors in a curry. After having this thought, I chanced a look at my favorite Indian restaurant’s menu and found bhindi masala! Bhindi is the Hindi word for okra, and the dish is a filling, comforting, and silky mixture of vegetables, served with rice. This was what I was wanting! It was a real thing!
The reason I’m calling this recipe generic “okra curry” instead of “bhindi masala” is simple: I’m not cooking this traditionally. I am not taking the time to craft the complicated spice blends that traditionally go into Indian cooking, and I did no research before attempting this on how to make it authentic. This is just a way for me to use up whatever veggies I have in my fridge, with some flavors that I enjoy. It’s delicious to me, but it is in no way trying to be a true bhindi masala. So read on below for my humble okra curry, and give it a shot yourself! The okra slime breaks down and coats the other vegetables in the curry, giving it heft and thickness. I promise it’s good enough to make you change your mind if you’re an okra hater! It’s the end of summer, so you may still be able to find some late season okra at your market. What’s your favorite way to make okra? Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to tell me any other ways I should try!
Here’s to good drinking, great eating, and even better living!
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 small yellow onion (diced)
- 1 green chili (jalapeño or shishito) (diced)
- 5 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2 medium summer squash (crookneck or zucchini) (sliced into rounds and quartered)
- 1 medium red bell pepper (diced)
- 1/2 lb okra (tops removed, sliced thinly)
- 2 medium tomatoes (diced)
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- salt (to taste)
- black pepper (to taste)
- crushed red pepper (to taste
- rice and naan, for serving
- Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Prepare all of your vegetables so you can focus on cooking, and not chopping against the clock.
- When the oil is hot, add the onion and green chili, and sauté 5 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.
- Add the squash, bell pepper, okra, and spices, and cook it all together for about 20 minutes. Add the tomato and cook for about 5 minutes further, until the tomato begins to break down. At this point, you can serve it or cook it down a little longer. Serve with rice and naan, and enjoy!
- I don’t mention it explicitly in the recipe, but it’s good cooking practice to salt your food throughout the cooking process. Here, I would salt with the addition of the vegetables, again when you add the tomatoes, and maybe again at the end if it could use a little more.
- Going along with that, taste your food as you cook! When you add tomatoes, you’re adding a lot of water, which could dilute the spices or salt levels of your dish. Taste before you serve so you know what to add. It takes the guesswork out of serving it to your friends and family and waiting on their reactions – you’ll know it’s good before it even gets to the table!
- This is the “fast” version of the dish. At this stage, the vegetables still have their shape and the squash has a bit of firmness to it. You could cook it low and slow for longer until the vegetables start to break apart, for extra tenderness. As an extra bonus, your house will smell amazing with it simmering on the stove for an hour or so.