Spiced Okra with Tomato

My recipe featured by Pick n Pay Fresh Living Magazine, July 2013

Okra or bhindi as it is often referred to by Indian communities, will go down in the childhood food hall of fame as a vegetable I positively loathed. Often cooked to within an inch of its life, mushy and greyish-green – I did not see the point. It’s been years since I saw or even looked for okra.

Minor differences may occur in both recipes. Fresh Living has my permission to alter slightly when they test for their readership.

Fresh Living July Ishay-page

While visiting my parents in Kwa-Zulu Natal last week, I spotted okra in a vegetable shop as well as traditionally ‘Asian’ vegetables like karela (or bitter gourd – more about this soon), gudra beans, long calabash, super hot chillis and others that you don’t see often outside the province. And if you do, it’s never in such abundance. I was determined to cook the okra in a way that made it appetizing, and so I researched as many recipes as I could find. The okra did not arrive in the most perfect condition after having been packed 6 hours earlier, but were young, fresh and crisp.


In the American south okra is deep fried – it’s said to help with the gumminess. In Nigeria it’s cooked in a soup. I wanted to revisit the type of dish I was accustomed to, but revamp it a little

The trick, I think is to cook the okra for far less time than the aunties will tell you to. It can stand to hold just a little crunch. Young okra are the best to use. A little vinegar added will help combat the mushiness. Amchur (dried mango powder) adds a lovely tangy element, balanced with green chilli and warming cumin and coriander. It’s a dry braised “curry” of sorts and very quick and easy to prepare.

If I could get a regular supply of okra at my local markets or stores in Cape Town, I would make it often, perhaps with small shrimp too.


Serves 4

1/2 medium onion, finely diced

45 ml olive oil

2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly

1/2 t ground cumin

1/2 t ground coriander

1 large green chilli, split lengthwise (remove seeds if you prefer milder)

400 g okra, sliced into thin rounds

2 T white or red wine vinegar

salt, to taste

1/2 t palm sugar (jaggery)

2 large tomatoes, diced finely

1 t amchur (dried mango powder) – optional


In a pan on medium heat, add half the oil and fry the onions till soft.

Add the garlic, chilli, spices and the okra, stir.

Add the rest of the oil and fry the okra for 8-10 minutes or so, stirring.

Add the vinegar about 5 minutes into cooking the okra – it’s believed to help with the ‘slimey’ texture that’s a natural characteristic.

Add the salt, palm sugar and tomatoes and cook for 4 minutes or so, until the tomatoes soften. Test if okra is fully cooked, but allow to retain some crunch.

Remove from heat and add amchur if using.

Serve with basmati rice, roti or as a side to a meat dish.

Disclosure: I have been hired to develop this Indian Series in Fresh Living Magazine.