Whether you love okra or hate it with a passion -- and everyone falls in one of those two categories -- you will definitely love Bhindi Masala, a dish so flavorful and so delicious that it makes an appearance on nearly every Indian restaurant menu.
Most Indians fall into the first category, the kind that loves okra, which also goes in that country (thanks to the British) by the macabre name of lady's fingers. That's because Indian cooks learned long ago that the first rule of cooking okra is to rid it of that hateful goop that can transform this veggie from delicious to dreadful (although that goop can be a useful thickener in recipes like gumbo and in sambar, a South Indian dal).
The way this is usually done is either by stir-frying the okra in plenty of oil at high heat, sealing in the slime before it has a chance to escape into the rest of the dish, or by frying the okra in oil before adding it to the rest of the recipe. The latter is the technique usually used for Bhindi Masala where you really, really want your bhindi, or okra, to be crisp and firm, not ooey and gooey.
But today, for you, I have a third way, and it's a stroke of genius, even if I say so myself. An air fryer.
I told you about this, my new favorite appliance, in my Air Fryer Tofu recipe post last week. And I've been having a blast discovering new ways to use it to help me in the kitchen.
For this Bhindi Masala recipe, I would have in the past used the oven to cook my okra so I use less oil than frying the okra requires (and you can do that for this recipe if you don't have an air fryer). But an air fryer just made things so much easier.
This recipe comes together really quickly, and surprisingly so for a dish with so much flavor. And you can make it even faster if you have my Tomato Onion Masala Sauce for Indian Curries in your refrigerator (instructions are included separately in the recipe box below).
How to make the best restaurant-quality Bhindi Masala:
- Once again, getting the slime out -- or rather never letting it get out of -- the okra pod is key. So before you do anything, wash your okra and then dry it thoroughly. And I mean thoroughly. After rinsing it in a strainer, put it between two kitchen towels and pat dry. Then put it on a baking sheet if you need to and let it stand and air dry further. You get the idea?
- While on that thought, don't use frozen okra in this recipe. Frozen okra comes slimy out of the bag, so if you want a great-textured, unslimy okra, frozen simply won't work. And yes, the fresh okra need trimming and chopping, but you want some yummy food, don't you?
- Trim the ends off the okra, then cut it in 1 ½-inch pieces for the best restaurant-quality effect. Some recipes ask you to slit the okra on one side, but I don't find that necessary. The pieces are small enough that the sauce will penetrate and flavor the okra.
- The recipe is for a pound of okra and that amount fits perfectly in the basket of the air fryer. You will need to pull out the basket halfway through cooking and give it a shake to move the okra around and make sure everything is cooking evenly. Toss the okra in a teaspoon of oil before air frying for the best results.
- If you don't have an air-fryer, you can either stir-fry your okra in a wok or skillet with two tablespoons of oil, set aside, then proceed with the rest of the recipe; or you can toss it with a teaspoon of oil, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet, and cook in a 450-degree oven for 15 minutes or until the okra is almost done. Shake the okra around halfway through to make sure it cooks evenly.
- Now that we have the okra all sorted out, let's move on with the rest of the recipe. You want to chop your onions fine, ditto for the tomatoes. That's because you want them to break down into a lovely, lush sauce for the okra that you can scoop up with a roti.
- Like I said earlier, if you have my tomato onion masala sauce handy, you can make even shorter work of this Bhindi Masala. All you'd need to get this yummy dish on your table would be 15 minutes, tops. But even if you start it from scratch, you can do it all in under 30 minutes if you multitask a bit.
- And by multitask I don't mean intensive multitasking. You can put your okra in the air fryer or oven, prep your onions, tomatoes, ginger and garlic, and then, once everything is ready, put it all together.
Your dish can be one-pot if you stir-fry your okra in oil. But if you make it in the air fryer or oven, you will need to use the air fryer basket or a baking sheet.
Okra pods (fresh, not frozen): The frozen pods are slimier, so it's best to use the fresh pods in this recipe, where you want the okra to be crisp and dry, not wet and stringy.
Vegetable oil: Any vegetable oil that has no strong flavors, including avocado oil, peanut oil, safflower oil or sunflower oil.
Cumin seeds: Cumin adds lovely, earthy flavor to this recipe.
Onions: Onions build the flavorful sauce so integral to bhindi masala.
Ginger: For flavor and healthfulness.
Garlic: For even more flavor and healthfulness.
Green chili peppers like serrano or jalapeno (optional): There is some cayenne as well in this recipe, so you can leave out the chili peppers if sensitive to heat. They add a lot of herby freshness, though.
Tomatoes: To help build the sauce, with the onions, and to add tangy-sweet flavor.
Coriander powder: In north Indian dishes, like this one, coriander adds fresh, lemony flavor.
Turmeric: For more healthfulness and color.
Paprika or cayenne: For some color and spice.
Amchoor (dry mango powder): Amchoor or Amchur is another flavoring ingredient commonly found in north Indian recipes, and it adds a lovely tang.
Cilantro: For fresh, herby flavor.
More Indian vegan restaurant style side dishes
- Chole Bhatura or Chana Bhatura
- Vegan Paneer Butter Masala
- Vegan Keema Masala
- Tofu Makhani
- Palak Paneer or Saag Paneer with Tofu
- Click here for a collection of Indian vegan restaurant style recipes.
Bhindi Masala, Stir-Fried Indian Okra with Spices
- 1 pound okra (washed, thoroughly dried, then trimmed into 1 ½-inch pieces lengthwise)
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil (divided)
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 medium onion (finely diced)
- 2 medium tomatoes (finely diced)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- ½ inch ginger (minced or julienned)
- 1 green chili pepper (like jalapeno or serrano, minced, optional)
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp paprika (or cayenne for more heat. You can adjust this quantity up or down per your taste)
- 1 tsp amchoor (or amchur, a dry mango powder. This adds lovely tanginess, but if you absolutely have to, sub with juice of a lemon)
- ½ tsp garam masala
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp cilantro (finely minced, for garnish)
- Toss the okra with ½ tsp of oil and place in an air fryer basket. Air fry at 375 degrees for 8 minutes, tossing halfway through, or until the okra is almost tender. The okra should still look green, and should have a slight bite when your teeth dig into it. Set aside.(If you don't have an air-fryer, spread the okra on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until almost cooked. A third option, the more traditional one, is to stir-fry the okra in 2 tbsp of oil until almost done.)
- Heat the remaining oil in a kadhai or wok or skillet. Add the cumin seeds and when they darken slightly, add the onions with a pinch of salt. Saute until the onions are translucent and begin to brown. Add the ginger and garlic and green chili peppers if using and continue to saute for a couple more minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, mix, then add the powdered spices -- coriander powder, turmeric, paprika or cayenne, amchoor and garam masala. You want to saute the tomatoes only until they are very mushy and have let go of all their liquid, making a nice sauce. If you overcook your tomatoes to the point where they have lost most of their moisture, they will also lose their sweetness, so don't overdo it. You want a hint of sweetness in this recipe to balance out the spicy, salty and tangy flavors. If your tomatoes aren't too sweet, add a teaspoon of sugar -- it'll do the trick.
- Add a cup of water to the tomatoes and onions and bring to a boil. Season with salt and add the prepped okra to the sauce. Stir to mix and continue cooking 3-4 minutes until the flavors meld together and the okra is cooked to your liking. I like my okra with just a little bite to it. Keep in mind that the longer you cook the okra, the more discolored it will get, losing that bright green color. It will still taste awesome, though.
- Sprinkle on the cilantro and serve hot.
If making it with the basic tomato onion sauce:
- Prep the okra in the air fryer or oven or stove top. Heat two cups of the tomato onion sauce in the wok or skillet, then add the coriander powder, amchur and garam masala. Add a teaspoon of sugar. Add a cup of water, and when everything comes to a boil, add the okra and cook for 3-4 minutes until the flavors meld. Garnish with coriander and serve.