Stuffed bendakaya (bhindi, okra, ladies’ fingers)
This has always been a favourite – I can’t think of one person who hasn’t liked it. The most notable thing about making okra in our place is the concern about worms! My mother used to spend ages splitting and checking the okra, and even now, Vishmama (my mother's youngest brother), never eats bhindi dishes when he goes out in case they haven’t checked them properly. The habit is strong – I have always done it – slit the bhindis down the long edge, sort of open them slightly to look inside and check there are no unwelcome visitors. Or, if you are cutting them into small pieces, just do that, but watch out in case … and then chuck that one, wash your knife, etc. I did this for years, in memory of Amma sitting in the kitchen verandah on the green cane chair there, and doing this. And for years I found not one single worm. And then one day I did! It was awful – I slit one, and up popped this thing, sort of lifting its head up and looking. Sorry, I have probably infected you with this concern too, now, but it really was a vivid and creepy experience. Thank goodness I didn’t cut it!
So, wash the bhindis, lay them out on a tea towel to dry. Lightly wipe them with another tea towel if you are in a rush. Sit down with a knife – or better still, ask one of the guests to do this (Tina, for instance, is a complete expert at it) – and start slitting the bhindis, wiping the sticky knife on a towel every so often. No need even to top and tail them actually – they are usually tender enough to eat. Prepare a mix of powdered spices to put in the slits. At the most simple level, try half a teaspoon of chilli powder or black pepper and a teaspoon of salt. Or, what I do is add a half teaspoon of cumin powder and a half teaspoon of dhaniya (coriander) powder. Or if you're feeling really adventurous, add a bit amchur (dried mango powder) for a sour tang to it.
Now you have to pick up a pinch of this mixture between thumb and forefinger, holding the slit bhindi ajar. And then draw a line of the mixture into the slit by moving your thumb up and along the forefinger. It’s an old muggu drawing trick (those patterns on the ground drawn with chalk powder).
Put all the stuffed bhindis on a lightly oiled oven tray and put it into the oven, highish until beautifully browned with some green showing but not too dried. Or, for better control, you could take a very frying pan and fry them in batches.