Vendakkai Kari (Pan-fried Okra)

I’ve always had a thing for cooking/buying local, in-season produce. I don’t understand people who live in India and pay Rs.200 for an avocado, or people living abroad hunting for imported Indian mangoes. Sure, once in a while is fine. But regularly, we should all try to eat local produce. They’re fresher, cheaper and definitely much healthier.

Hence, I frequent farmer’s markets. After our recent move, it took me one day to locate the time and place of the local market. It was quite easy given that the area of the island is just 75sqmi. But the local market here is so different from those I’ve been to before, the produce so different. Summer in NY means, best of fruits – peaches and apricots and berries. Here it’s mangoes. So many varieties of local mangoes. And star fruit and guavas and coconut. It’s quite a revelation. As far as veggies go, right now, okra and plantains are in season. I buy them every week and try out new ways to fix them.


Today, I will give here my Okra recipe. I never buy frozen okra, because my favorite way to make it crispy, pan-fried, and okra and moisture don’t go well. Look how gorgeous this farmer’s market haul is! And I’ve never seen red okra before! I’ve always loved okra, and not because my mom told me that eating okra makes you a genius at Math. Now my kids love it too. It’s their favorite vegetable of all time. Here’s how I make it (and how my mom made it).

Pan-fried Okra (Vendakkai kari in Tamil)


Okra – 1/2 kg (about 1 pound)
Oil for tempering
Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida – a pinch
Curry leaves – few
Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Red chili powder – 1tsp (You can change this based on your spice level, but I keep it here otherwise you can’t really taste the okra, or anything else)
Salt – to taste


1. Wash the okra well. Wipe it well with a fresh tea towel. Let it sit in a colander for 10-15 min to air dry. You don’t want any water on the okra. Dry it again with a paper towel if you must. No water!

2. Slice it with a sharp knife, taking care not to bruise it too much. And don’t slice it carpaccio-thin, thinking it would be crisper. Slice it thusly.




3. Use a wide pan. Don’t use your vANali/wok here. You need a pan wide enough to fit the okra without crowding it in a pile. You don’t want it to steam.

4. Heat oil (medium high heat). Temper mustard seeds, urad dal, asafoetida and curry leaves. Once the mustard seeds have spluttered and the dal is brown, add turmeric powder and chili powder. Don’t burn them, but let it mix with the oil well.

5. Add the chopped okra. Mix with the seasoned oil well and spread it out evenly in the pan so it’s not all crowded. Let it sit here and cook for a bit.

6. Resist the temptation to stir the okra too much. The more you stir, the more gooey the okra becomes. Also, notice we haven’t added salt yet. And we won’t till the very end. This is because salt is hydrophilic, and will draw moisture out of the food. We don’t want more moisture in there. Keep the heat at medium-high as well.

7. Stir the okra once every five minutes. so it cooks evenly on all sides. In about 15 min, you will notice, while stirring, the okra is no longer gooey and has turned color slightly. At this point, add salt to taste, stir well, and cook for another 5-7 minutes, till the okra is at desired level of crispness.

8. Take off heat and serve with rice/roti or just eat it off the pan. I’ve done all 3.





Nombu Adai

Steamed Sweet and Savory rice and black-eyed peas cakes, served with butter

Karadaian Nombu (Karadai literally means savory adai, cannot imagine anywhere else a festival would be named after food) is celebrated widely in Tamil Nadu, in honor of a mythical character called Savitri, who brought back her husband to life. So the women fast for the entire day, praying for their husband’s long and healthy life, and ending the fast by eating these tasty and healthy adais. You don’t have to fast or pray, but these adais are mighty good for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

There are two versions, the sweet one, made with rice flour, jaggery, black-eyed pea (dry beans, has nothing to do with the hip-hop band), and coconut. The savory one, ginger & green chilis replace jaggery. Usually they are served with fresh, unsalted butter.

Coconut and black-eyed peas
Sweet Adai


Rice flour – 1 cup
Jaggery – 1 cup (or 3/4 cup if you don’t like it very sweet)
Water 1 1/4 cup
Cardamom (powdered) – one pinch
Fresh grated coconut – 3 tablespoons
Black eyed peas – 1/4 cup
Roasted cashew nuts – 5 – 6 (optional)
Ghee to grease the pans (or butter)


1. Dry roast the rice flour for a few minutes. Don’t let it change color, this is just to remove moisture if any.

2. Dry roast the black eyed peas, and pressure cook (or boil in water) for about 10 minutes, till cooked but not mushy.

3. Dissolve jaggery in water, and filter it twice (sometimes jaggery may have impurities)

4. Bring the jaggery water to a boil, add cardamom, and then the rice flour and stir without lumps.

5. Mix in peas, coconut and cashews (if using).

6. Once the mixture has cooled a bit, flatten it into patties. (this dough makes about 12 – 15 adais)

7. Steam the adais in a idli cooker or a bamboo steamer (or your favorite steaming method).

8. Serve it hot with butter.
Savory rice and black-eyed peas cake - ready to be steamed

Savory Adais


Rice flour – 1 cup
Water 1 1/4 cup
Fresh grated coconut – 3 tablespoons
Black-eyed peas – 1/4 cup
Green chili – 1 (chopped finely)
Ginger (chopped fine) – 1 teaspoon
Salt – to taste
For tempering – oil (1 tsp), mustard seeds (1/2 teaspoon) and curry leaves (a few)


1. Dry roast the rice flour for a few minutes. Don’t let it change color, this is just to remove moisture if any.

2. Dry roast the black eyed peas, and pressure cook (or boil in water) for about 10 minutes, till cooked but not mushy.

3. Heat oil in a pan, and temper the mustard seeds, and curry leaves. Add the ginger and chili and fry for a minute.

4. Add water and bring it to a boil, then the rice flour and stir without lumps.

5. Mix in peas, and coconut and salt to taste.

6. Once the mixture has cooled a bit, flatten it into patties. (this dough makes about 12 – 15 adais)

7. Steam the adais as before.

8. Serve it hot with butter.


1. Prep the rice flour and black eyed peas for both the recipes at one go. It’s much easier that way.

2. Try serving the savory adais as an appetizer with mint chutney!

3. Jaggery is usually available in Indian stores, but if you don’t find it, use dark brown sugar. It won’t taste the same, but it will definitely taste good.

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup

Roasted tomato and garlic soup with grilled cheese s/w

Today, we went to the Mercado San Anton (Chueca) for lunch. It’s a very old market, but with the latest makeover, it’s an awesome, three-storied market+bar+restaurant. You’ll find your greengrocer, baker, butcher, fishmonger all under one roof,  as well as other stalls selling local products and produce and fine choice of food from around the world. On the first floor is the traditional market. Move up to the second floor, and there are casual snack/tapas stalls not just from Spain, but all over Europe, and even Japan! Greek Tapas is so awesome! We had our lunch here, nibbling a bit of this and that. But you could also move up to the third floor for the restaurant “La Cocina de San Anton” and they will cook the meat and produce you bought from the market, however you want it. There is also a rooftop bar with amazing view of the chic Chueca area.

Mercado San Anton, Madrid

My favorite shop was the artisan bread store, “Viena La Baguette” which sells a whole range of fresh breads, baguettes and rolls. The tomato boule called out to me, I had to buy it. There I got my dinner inspiration, and also bought some vine ripened tomatoes from greengrocer, having decided to make a hearty tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich to go with it.

Viene, la baguette store at Mercado San Anton

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup (makes 2 servings)

Tomatoes – 6

Garlic – 1/2 a head of garlic

Fresh herbs – rosemary, thyme and basil about a teaspoon each

Olive oil – about 2 tablespoons

Vegetable stock – 1 cup

Salt and Pepper to taste


1. Cut tomatoes in half, and place them on a sheet pan, cut side up. Drizzle olive oil, sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper and roast in a 200C (400F) oven for an hour or so.

2. Cover the 1/2 head of garlic  in foil and roast it along with the tomatoes.

3. Cool the tomatoes a bit, peel them (the peel comes off easily), and blend them along with the roasted garlic (also peeled), fresh rosemary and thyme. Don’t blend it into a smooth paste, chunky is good.

4. Mix the blended tomatoes with the stock, and simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper.

5. Serve topped with fresh basil.

Grilled Cheese

It’s more a method than a recipe. Use good crusty bread, not sliced bread. Smear a bit of roasted garlic (smashed with a fork and it’s a fine paste) or mustard, and good grated cheese (I used cheddar and gouda, fontina would be nice too) between two slices. Heat a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil, the s/w goes on the pan, and cover it with another pan, weighed down with a tin (or I used a small stone mortar :)). Wait for a minute, then flip it over and cook the other side. Cut in half and eat immediately, if not sooner.


1. Blend the soup smooth, and add 1/2 cup of cream or half and half for a cream of tomato soup.

2. Top off the soup with broiled homemade croutons and serve it with a nice salad instead of the grill cheese for an even healthier option.

3. Roast the entire garlic covered in tin foil. Squeeze the cloves out, and store the roasted garlic in the fridge for later use. Smear it on toasted bread for a quick garlic bread fix, it keeps for a week.