GOENKARPONN: Glimpses of the celebration of all things Goan and local at Amchem Daiz in Taleigao…a cultural program of songs and dances, skits and pep talks…and a variety of gauti vegetables, fruit, a salt cellar of old… and discovering the goodness of bhende or ladies’ finger

Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column

By Tara Narayan

WHEN it comes to ladies’ finger or okra or bhende (or bhendo) there are two kinds of folk – who like them or who like them not because they say it’s a slimy vegetable! So what, a lot of things are slimy in body beautiful too and I don’t see why we should sanitize the human mind so much, especially when it’s clear that this vegetable is value for money in a myriad ways to help us stay fighting fit.

These days the social media as in Facebook is full of diabetics waxing lyrical about ladies’ fingers bring down blood sugar, improving the quality of your heart or cardiovascular system, super duper for those suffering from asthma or respiratory ailments…also, if you apply bhendochyo or bhendeche’s slimy juices mixed in with lemon juice to your scalp overnight…you’ll reap silky, shining tresses fit for a princess.

Don’t know about you but I love bhindi (Hindi) and cane at every day Guju style or Rajasthani style or any other agreeable style (as long as it is not greasy, oily or burnt to cinders). My style is usually to stir-fry onion-tomato in a tempering of jeera and a pinch of hing and then add the sliced round veggie…add half tsp each of haldi powder, dhani-jeera powder (coriander-cumin powder), aamchoor powder if you wish…stir-fry and it’s okay if your bhindi stays somewhat kacha pakka! Garnish with chopped green leaves and serve with roti or rice or khichdi. Squeeze some lemon juice atop if you wish (I usually wish). Guju-style is also to add dahi as a last touch, so we have dahi bhinda nu shaak. There’s also a mouthwatering bhinda-ni-kadi (tangy buttermilk saucy kadi rich with tempered sliced ladies’ finger)

Stuffed ladies fingers are also very popular with us Indians. Wash, wipe and slice off top and tail end; make an elongated cut in the bhindi and stuff it with a savoury choon — say gram flour, turmeric powder/coriander-cumin powders, bit grated jaggery, rock salt, ajwain or thymol seeds, sesame seeds, mix all together and stuff into the slit bhindi, close off as much as you can and gently stir-fry them (or steam cook them if you wish). Can add amchur or mango powder to the choon for a sour tang. Some folk do a more austere filling of say just toasted cumin-amchur/pomegranate powder and stir-fry them lightly in a non-stick pan till crispy and prop up in a clear glass to serve as appetizers (it’s an old Goan recipe, ring up Chef Rego at the Taj Vivanta and ask him for the exact recipe!). Goa’s heirloom ladies’ finger or bhende come extra long at 10-12-inches and more and are pale green and can be fierce looking…the odd piece can be a real toughie so avoid these or you’ll be chewing fibre forever in your mouth forever after unless you spit out the bhendo glob!

If the tips break off with a quick flip then it’s a tender bhendo, okay. Take your cue from that. Goan-styled sukkem bhendhyachye bhaji is smothered in freshly grated coconut but it does lend an agreeable sweetish taste… add in a few petals of kokum too for a tang.  In Goa one may also find a bhendo/e (bhende is plural I imagine) caldin, that is made in milder, savoury Portuguese-styled curry base…can be very finger-licking delicious if made expertly and the coconut curry does not ooze aromatically with coconut oil. There’s some trick to making the caldin curry palate perfect but I have to find this out… for I love all things caldin or caldeen as it is spelt sometimes.

Some folk fine slice ladies’ finger and just do a quick deep-fry to get elegant crunchy wafers to toss in a chaat masala and serve. Jaipuri-style, it’s said. Sometimes the bhindi cuts are dipped lightly in a thin spiced up gram flour batter and deep-fried for the same crunchy effect…say Indian tempura-style. But tempura style is hard to do and only practice makes perfect, tempura is agreeable only if your fryums (veggies or sea food) emerge from the frying pan as lightweight, delicately crunchy morsels, not oil-drenched. I think the trick is to use cold water to make the thin batter.

NOW I remember where I tasted some bhende caldin recently. At the annual Village Panchayat Taleigao Amchem Daiz cultural festival at the St Michael’s Church (one of the oldest churches dating back to 1544, with a lot of history attached to it) which I visited Saturday (Jan 27). Taleigao has quite an interesting and sizeable farming community and long may it survive in our concrete jungle times! As usual the organizers had put up an exhibition of local farm veggies/ fruit and I was excited with my first taste of the “adao” fruit, it’s an oval maroon berry, thick skin, reminiscent of the taste of sapota or chikoo…and there was bilimbim, carambolim, the large oval ambade (as opposed to the small green oval ambade). Everything looked inviting, as did the greens of tamdi bhaji/mulo/palak and drumsticks, fabulously fragrant Goan lemons, yams, sweet potatoes red and white, brinjals, etc etc.

On exhibit were old world kitchen equipment of wood and stone (used by homemakers before the arrival of pressure cooker and electric blender) and a cute outdoor salt cellar made of paddy straw. Those who arrived late rudely ignored the exhibition and ongoing cultural program on stage, and headed straight for the food stalls! Service started at 8.30 pm and it was a standard menu at all stalls of pulao, bhaji (cabbage/dudhi/ladies’ finger caldin), chicken xacuti, chicken cafreal, sorpotel, salad, prawn kismur and finally godshem (jaggery-sweetened country rice-fenugreek-coconut milk porridge or mangane which is a chana dal porridge). A platter meal deal was priced at a standard `150 at all three or four stalls.

I want only vegetarian fare, I said, but it was nothing doing, there were no concessions! But I got extra portions of pulao, cabbage sabzi, salad, mixed it all up and relished it for it was all wood-fire cooked. Finally, I  couldn’t resist going to the stall serving bhende caldin on its menu and begged for some to taste… just a teaspoon please! Mercifully the women here obliged — earlier I was in a dilemma trying to choose between cabbage, pumpkin or bhende caldin listed on the menus put up at each stall. I mean I couldn’t possible feast at two different stalls for that would be akin to paying and indulging in two set meals. What was the bhende caldin like? I had no regrets, the bhende was too fibrous and the caldin disagreeably spiked with garam masala!

(Sigh) I couldn’t find some friends and feeling somewhat lonely took another look at all the veggies on show (a friendly Luciano Fernandes here said hang around till midnight and the farmers may be giving away or selling the veggies); I lingered a little because a women’s group was dancing and singing in praise of Lord Krishna on stage, listened to various Taleigao worthies urging folk to stay together and continue to live in harmony and peace despite the provocation of our times (Dr Ganesh Ganekar is always a delight to listen to!). Would have stayed on but…but!

The slightly late night ride back home on my Blue Angel was a chilly affair, but pure heaven to breathe in the unmistakable rustic farm air on either side of my route home. I pray these farmlands continue to thrive in rapidly urbanizing Taleigao. There is something called urban agriculture and it makes all the difference to the quality of the growth of a town hell bent on turning itself into a monster big time smart city cheek by jowl!

Note: If you’re wondering why ladies’ finger is slimy it’s because of “exopolysacharrides and proteins called glycoproteins.” The veggie is of the Malvaceae family and related to the hibiscus plant…it’s said to be native to   West Africa, Ethiopia…the famous dish “Creole gumbo”was born courtesy slaves in Louisiana in America. And finally, yes, the health brief comes highly prescribed. Ladies’ finger, okra or bhende…the veggie is said to be rich in soluble and insoluble fiber, zinc, folate (pregnant women do better with bhende sabzi)…there’s vitamin K (to do with clotting factor in blood), vitamins B1, B2, B6, C, calcium. I would say fall in love with this veggie and learn to eat it all kinds of ways (not cooked to death please); it’s good for the skeletal system of young and especially old.

Hey, I here that some fans are washing, drying, slitting two ladies’ finger and letting them sit overnight in a glass of water, next morning drink up the water only and see the difference in your blood sugar! Check it out. What have you got to lose? I’m going to check it out to see if it does something for my crumbling knee joints (all my overweight is catching up with me in my life’s end years).

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