The Indian food in my home was always plain but wholesome. Not much oil, hardly ever any garlic or onions and the vegetables were always lightly tempered with just a little oil and sparingly cooked.
My grandparents hailed from northern Madhya Pradesh, from Sagar and Bundelkhand, although their roots, many generations before, were Uttar Pradesh near Faizabad.
My grandfather, a freedom fighter who was imprisoned in Nagpur jail for two years during the freedom movement, believed in simple, upright, living. That was reflected in the sparse sattvic but tasty food my grandmother cooked.
Most people mistake north Indian food for the boring tedious butter paneers, dum alus, jalfrezis, you find in restaurants. But home-cooked north Indian food, found across UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh is food you would never have eaten. It's too simple to find a place on a restaurant menu and can only be had in people's homes and it's delicious.
My Ammaji's Yoghurt Bhindi is a good sample of that cuisine. I have tweaked it over the years adding a bit of one of my favourite spice -- kalonji. And curry patta.
Ammaji's Mahi Bhindi
- 250 gm bhindi or lady's fingers or okra
- 2 tbsp oil + 1 tbsp for tempering
- 200 gm yoghurt
- 2 tbsp besan or chickpea flour
- Dash haldi or turmeric
- Dash sugar
- Salt to taste
- ½-inch piece ginger, cut in long thin slivers
- Pinch methi or fenugreek seeds
- ½ tsp kalonji or nigella seeds
- 1 tsp rai or mustard seeds
- Pinch hing or asafoetida
- 6-7 curry patta or curry leaves
- Dash red chilly powder
- 1 tbsp chopped green dhania or coriander or cilantro, for serving, optional
- Cut the 250 gm washed and well-dried bhindi into 1½ inch pieces.
In a shallow frying pan or non-stick frying pan heat 2 tbsp oil or less over medium heat.
Fry the bhindi for about 15 minutes to sort of seal them so the sliminess is locked in and they might mildly change colour.
Take out onto a paper towel or tissue-lined plate.
- In a bowl, whisk together the yoghurt with the besan, dash haldi, dash sugar and salt.
- Heat about a tbsp oil in a medium saucepan or kadhai.
Add the pinch of methi first and then the kalonji, rai, hing.
Allow the rai to pop.
Add 6-7 curry patta.
Pour in the dahi mixture.
Allow it to thicken over medium heat, whisking, about 10 minutes.
Then add the pan-fried bhindi.
Add a dash lal mirchi powder or as per taste.
Serve with hot rotiSor steamed rice.
My Note: For a Jain version of Mahi Bhindi, replace the ginger with 1 tsp saunth or dried ginger powder.
For vegan Mahi Bhindi, replace the yoghurt with 200 gm coconut cream and before turning off the heat add a squeeze of lime.
For a different taste, add ½ tsp crumbled dagar phool or pathar ke phool/kalpaasi or stone flower. Another interesting tweak could be to use mustard oil while frying the bhindi. And if you like the spice, add a green chilly cut in half lengthwise.