Some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life was when Chris & I were living in Singapore & Sri Lanka. The Indian influence on the cuisines from both these countries was always omnipresent and the spices, herbs and vegetables from the wet markets we once found ‘exotic’ are now staples in our household. Generally, South Asian communities- in Singapore & Sri Lanka in my experience- call Bitter Melon “Karela” and Okra “Lady Fingers”. And while in America people tend to associate these two vegetables with either East/Southeast Asian or American Southern cooking respectively, both are heavily prevalent in South Asian cuisine. I am by no means a South Asian food expert, but I’ve been privileged and lucky enough to have been welcomed into many an Indian & Sri Lankan family kitchen to watch the magic at work. Here’s a take on a subji (vegetable dish) which I have had many times and have grown to love as a kitchen staple. This recipe also includes a filler of cabbage which helps to soak up excess oil and runaway spices. The recipe calls for 1 cup of cabbage but you can add more depending on your taste. The other day, I added 2 cups to get more of a salad-like texture.
Karela & Ladies Fingers Subji
Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side
1 medium 8′ bitter melon or 3-4 small, thinly sliced
About 8 pieces of okra, or more if they are small, cut into small chunks
1 cup (or more) shredded cabbage, green, savoy or napa
1 yellow onion, halved and diced
1 inch knob ginger, peeled and crushed
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp coriander
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 chili powder
A handful of rau ram/laksa Leaf or cilantro, roughly chopped
Heat up about 2 tbsp of canola oil in a pan at medium heat and add the mustard seeds. Once they begin to pop, add the onions and cook for about 10 minutes or until golden, tossing occasionally to coat the onions in the mustard and oil.
Grind the cumin and coriander with a mortar and pestle or in a cleaned coffee grinder and add to the onions along with the ginger and garlic. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, again, moving them around so they don’t stick or burn.
Add the bitter melon and okra and cook and saute with the onion spice mixture until al dente. Halfway through, season with salt and pepper to taste. Then throw in the cabbage, followed by the turmeric and chili powder. Toss all the ingredients together until the cabbage starts to wilt.
Turn the heat off and fold in rau ram or cilantro, reserving a small mount to garnish on top.
Transfer to a serving plate, top with the the remaining rau ram or cilantro and serve!
This goes great alongside a meat dish or other vegetable dishes like a dal and should be served with rice or chapattis and a healthy dollop of yoghurt or raita.