Vendakkai Masala - Ladies Finger or Okra Masala
“Eat vendaikai, you will become brainy.”
This was mother’s advice. We liked vendaikai (okra or ladies finger) only if she prepared the vegetable, because our cook usually ruined it by making a slimy slush out of it. Mother prepared a nutritious sambar or a lip smacking puli (Tamarind) kuzhambu or a simple sautéed curry with vendaikai which we enjoyed with rice. Occasionally she prepared vendaikai thair pachadi too. We had not tasted the vegetable in any other form until father took us out on a North Indian tour.
I must have been around 10 years old at that time! Father had already driven a thousand five hundred miles to show us around South India. Now he planned to show us the India beyond Bangalore. With the me and my two siblings tucked away comfortably in the back seat, and with mother seated beside him with my baby brother on her lap, he took to the wheels of our latest ambassador car and we zoomed on the national high way towards Aurangabad after visiting Hyderabad. We were thrilled when we tasted the bendi masala which was served with our dinner. None of us had ever seen or tasted a dish with whole vendaikais in it till then!
The next day we were off to see the famous Ajanta and Ellora caves, with the hotel ‘boy’ who came along with us as a guide. He also carried our lunch in a huge tiffin carrier and lugged it along where ever we went. The serene and tranquil atmosphere of the hills was suddenly shaken by a big thud when the carrier slipped and fell from the boy’s hand. To my greatest horror and disappointment all the bendi masala had scattered on the ground along with the rest of the food. My father must have seen my disappointment in my teary eyes, and so when we returned to the hotel that night, he ordered two extra portions of the dish which had caught my fancy!
In Mysore, the gun house of the royal family was converted into a restaurant called ‘The Gun House Imperial’ a long time ago. I do not remember whether they fried it or grilled it, but their bendi masala was deliciously crisp. I present my version of my favourite vendaikai masala here.
Vendaikkai ( ladies finger, okra, bendi) – 1 /2 kilogram
Coriander seeds – 3 tbsps
Bengal gram dal – 3 tbsps
Split black gram dal - 1 tsp
Red chillies – 10
Asafoetida – ¼ tsp
Cinnamon – 1”
Salt – 11/2 tsp
Thick juice extracted out of a marble size tamarind – 2 tbsp
Cooking oil – 3 tbsps
Mustard seeds – ¼ tsp
1. Heat a drop of oil and add cinnamon.
2. Then add the coriander seeds, Bengal gram dal and black gram dal and roast till it gives out a pleasant aroma.
3. Add chillies and asafoetida and roast till the dals turn golden in colour and the chillies become crisp. Be careful not to burn the dals - as they will then taste bitter
4. Cool the roasted ingredients and grind them into a coarse powder.
5. Add salt and a little water and run the mixer for two more minutes to get a thick paste.
6. Now wash and dry the vendaikai. Cut off the top and the tail portion.
7. Using a sharp knife slit the vegetables lengthwise.
8. Stuff the slit vendaikais tightly with the prepared masala.
9. Heat the oil in a thick bottomed pan and add mustard seeds.
10. When it splutters arrange the stuffed vendaikais in the pan and lightly roll them one by one in the oil.
11. Add the thick tamarind extract ,mix lightly and cover with a lid.
12. Cook on slow fire turning the vegetables now and then.
13. Remove the lid when the vendaikai becomes tender.
14. Continue roasting till it becomes dry.
Enjoy the mouth watering vendaikai masala with chapattis or rice.
TIP: Before cutting vendaikkais, wash them well, and dry them with paper or cloth towel. Vendaikais have a slimy substance, which becomes even more slimy with water, and this often ruins the texture of the vendaikkais!