Indian Style Tri-doshic Okra Masala
Here is one of my favorite Okra recipes: Indian Style Tri-doshic Okra Masala. There are many ways to make Okra. Iraqi’s cook it with onion and tomato. My friend Mrs. Mehdi with onion, cumin, and black pepper. My Persian friend adds pomegranite molasses and ground lamb with allspice and cumin. While my recipe, below, is designed especially to pacify Vatta and Pitta, in fact cooked Okra pacifies all three doshas, so with some slight modification that I describe after the recipe, you could adapt this dish even if you had a strong Kapha elevation.
But the big question for Americans is, “How can I make the Okra so it is not slimy. “
A lot of people don’t like Okra because the way it is cooked in this country, southern style, usually renders it slimy. I actually don’t mind that, in Gumbo, for example, but only because, I think, I first came to love Okra cooked Indian style.
There are three keys to cooking non-slimy Okra:
- One is to wash your Okra and let it dry out before cooking. If you have to wash the Okra right before cooking you can even dry each piece with a clean tea towel, otherwise wash the Okra and leave it in the strainer to dry while you organize the rest of your ingredients.
- The second key is that you will be sautéing your Okra in oil, which creates a kind of moisture barrier and keeps the Okra from developing that slimy texture.
- The third key is to cook your okra uncovered, which means stirring frequently, to prevent moisture build up that causes sliminess. Having said that, yesterday I cooked my Okra covered part of the time to make it cook faster, taking the lid off in the nick of time before it became slimy. That is the art of cooking, knowing when to cover when to uncover when to stir and when to leave alone. It comes from practice.
Indian Style Tri-doshic Okra Masala
1 large brown onion, sliced
2-3 cups whole Okra
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp whole cardamon
4-5 pieces of cassia bark, or 2 inches of cinnamon stick broken up a bit
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp coconut milk
1 tbsp yogurt, whisked
3-4 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp cooking oil, olive or sesame work well, ghee gives an even better taste with these spices.
- Cut your onion in half and cut into slices. Add to your oil on a medium high heat and stir for 5-10 minutes.
- As the onions brown add your salt, cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamon. (If using cinnamon and or cardamon powder, add those later so as not to burn).
- When you begin to smell the sweet spices, lower the flame to medium and add your Okra.
- Stir for 5 minutes or so, lower the heat to low-medium, and cover. Keep stirring every few minutes so the Okra and spices do not burn. You may even need to add a teaspoon of water now and again if its all too dry. The water helps the Okra and onions cook, but don’t add much or it will get slimy. If you use cumin powder and not seed add it after the Okra has cooked a bit.
- The Okra will turn bright green as you go, and its close to cooked when it starts to look a bit soft and you can sometimes see the Okra seeds bulging out. This has all taken about 15 minutes, depending on the quality and size of your Okra, your pan, and relative heat. I do this all in a wok.
- Now add the tomatoes, turmeric, black pepper, and if you are using powdered cinnamon or cardamon, them, too.
- Keep stirring for a couple of minutes, and then add the coconut milk and whisked yogurt. We whisk the yogurt so that it does not curdle. If using kefir, no need to whisk.
- Reduce to simmer, and cover. Cook another five minutes, adding a tablespoon of water if need be. You want a small amount of thick gravy when its done.
- Your Okra Masala is finished when the tips of the Okra start to break open.
Enjoy this dish with Rice or Chapatti. Goes well with corn tortilla, too.
How to Choose Good Okra:
Good Okra are soft, bright in color and very fresh looking. Okra gets old very fast, and become dry and hard. In India I watched the shoppers squeeze each and every piece of Okra to see that they feel soft to the squeeze. In British English Okra is called “Ladies’ Fingers” So the skin of the Okra should look young and soft. Age discrimination applies in this case. I don’t think Okra develops wisdom with age!
Okra in Ayurveda
Okra for Pitta, Vata and Kapha
Cooked Okra is an excellent Pitta pacifying vegetable because it is cool and soothing. Raw, it would elevate Vata mildly, but cooked it actually pacifies Vata because of its moistening, unctuous quality. But its best cooked for Vata with warming Vata pacifying spices like cumin and especially the sweet spices clove, cinnamon, and cardamon, because Sweet taste pacifies Vata. And because of its slightly bitter and light quality, Okra pacifies Kapha as well, particularly if cooked on the drier side and with less onion.
Vatas often suffer from dry hard stools or lack of urge. Okra is one of the most excellent vegetables for constipation, especially when cooked with spices that stimulate digestive fire, and with well cooked onion that also stimulated digestion and that lubricates the intestines and has both the sweet and heavy quality Vatas need.
In sum, cooked Okra is essentially Tri-doshic, which means well tolerated by all three doshas. So adjust to your dosha by adjusting the kind of oil and spices used.
- Vata dosha: Sesame Oil and sweet warming spices, as above
- Pitta dosha: Coconut Oil or Ghee with the above spices, perhaps add coriander leaf at end. Omit yogurt, increase coconut milk, omit tomato
- Kapha dosha: Sesame or even Mustard Oil, and more hot spices, even red chilli/chile, omit tomato if you like, omit coconut milk if you like (its only a tablespoon, so not like a Thai curry with tons of it)
Onions in Ayurveda
In Ayurveda both Charaka and the Harita Samhita agree that onion pacifies Vata, though there is disagreement over the effects on Pitta and Kapha. Red onions are more pungent, so more likely to elevate Pitta and pacify Kapha. However cooking onion makes it sweet and reduces pungency, which is why cooked onion reduces Vata and Pitta, and will elevate Kapha (though not nearly as much as deserts of any kind do). If you are very Kapha elevated, reduce the onion in this dish.
In Ayurveda onions are considered strengthening, and since Vata types are also often on the weaker side of the spectrum, cooking foods with onion is very suitable. Onions are also “appetizing,” which means that they make other bland foods palatable. From the tip of India all the way to Russia many people will tell you, “onion makes everything taste good.” That is why peasants in Europe from France to Siberia, even if they only had dark rye and pork fat to eat, they took it with salt and onion. I think 75% of Indian dishes, if not more, are made with onion.
Copyright Eyton J. Shalom, San Diego, CA. January 2016 All rights reserved, Use with Permission