Faryal’s Pakistani Bhindi (Okra) Masala

Comfort Food Inspiration:

An easily-loved and easily-shared meal

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The Bright Taste of Fresh Okra

By Daniel  

One of Faryal’s greatest frustrations is when she hears that people don’t like okra. The long seed pod of the Abelmoschus esculentus plant is dismissed by the people she meets on a regular basis. The number one complaint she has to deal with most of the time is that okra is slimy or too mild, but she disagrees with that because she believes the version of okra she ate growing up was far from either of those things. Faryal was born in Pakistan but has spent her entire adolescence and adult life in the United States. She is the youngest of three daughters. Her family also lives in the US. She is currently  a graduate student at Indiana University Bloomington's O'Neil School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), and a defender of okra’s reputation in Bloomington.  Okra is a key ingredient to Pakistani Bhindi,  a simple dish to make, with results that she says are a homey, delicious flavor and a healthy, filling plate of food.

Bhindi masala (pronounced "bin-dee") is a popular North Indian and Pakistani dish. Faryal recalls family members cutting up mounds of fresh okra into containers for their dinner that evening during a trip to Pakistan. Her siblings and she grew up enjoying bhindi together.

"Other foods were a little more contentious—we each had different types of lentils or rice that we preferred. Bhindi masala, on the other hand, was a favorite, common dish in our home that was never disliked and was usually finished quickly,"  she said confidently.

 

Faryal always looks forward to her mother's bhindi served with homemade naan bread when she visits her parents during the holidays. Faryal doesn't want to miss a beat of the food's (bhindi masala) essence, so she cooks it in Bloomington using her mother's identical recipe, which she mainly makes with frozen okra. Although she finds it difficult to make Pakistani food as well as her mother, she was able to recreate a classic dish she used to enjoy at home by meticulously following her recipe, and she feels that if she can prepare it, so can anyone else!

Faryal has shared the dish a few times with other friends or classmates in Bloomington during potlucks. She and her pals frequently bring delicacies that they know how to prepare or that they grew up with. Faryal would usually eat Bhindi Masala alone for dinner as part of her routine, as it's a simple dish to prepare and can be doubled to feed her for a week. The food not only heats up quickly in the microwave, but it also gives her more time to study and accomplish other crucial non-school tasks. Faryal hasn't had much interaction with other Pakistanis in Bloomington, so she's not sure if they prepare her favorite dish on a regular basis.

 

"Fresh picked okra is a little more difficult to prepare, but it will result in a brighter taste," Faryal admitted.

 

She can find fresh okra at the farmer's market during the summer, and because the plant is simple to grow and harvest, Faryal suggests checking with your favorite local farmer to see if they can source a batch for you or purchasing a plant to try growing it at home. Okra can also be purchased at Kroger and Walmart; just make sure it is fresh!

According to Faryal, the cost of cooking the food varies, but a package of 16 oz frozen okra costs less than $2.50 at Kroger, while diced tomatoes and onions cost a little more than $1.00. "Many of these spices are present in most people's homes," she says. You may expect to pay more if you buy fresh okra from a farmer, perhaps $5.00 to $7.00 per pint box. As a result, Faryal thinks it's fair to budget $5-10 or even less for this delicious dish, Bhindi Masala!

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 Katahar ko Tarkāri ra Chiurā/Jackfruit Curry and Flattened Rice 

Servings: 3

  • Ingredients – Can serve about 3 peopleI

  • ½ pound of fresh okra (or 1 pack of frozen bhindi)

  • ½ diced onion 

  • Two roma tomatoes, diced (or half a can of diced tomatoes)

  • ½ tsp turmeric 

  • 1 tsp of coriander

  • 1 tsp of cumin 

  • ¼ tsp of red chilies 

  • 1 tsp of salt

  • 4-5 tbsp of oil

Starting from fresh bhindi:

Wash and dry ½ pound fresh okra on a paper towel. Cut off heads and tails (tops and bottoms) and discard. Slice into ½ round discs. Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil into a nonstick frying pan and add the okra. Cook on a low heat, continuously mixing until okra begins to get darker and softens.

 

Directions:

In a saucepan, sauté ½ diced onion in 2 tablespoons of oil until very lightly browned on medium heat. Add fresh diced roma tomatoes (or half a can of diced tomatoes) and allow them to cook along onions. Wait until soft (about 5-6 minutes). Add masalas (turmeric, cumin, red chilies, salt) and mix well. Add bhindi (frozen or fresh cooked from other pan) to saucepan and thoroughly mix. Reduce heat and cover but continue to check and mix every minute or so. If mix begins to stick to bottom of saucepan, add 1 teaspoon of water. After 10-12 minutes, check to see if the bhindi has changed color and has softened. Once it has changed to a darker green color, remove from heat and serve with naan bread.