Tuesday, July 09, 2013

What does the hibiscus flower have to do with bhendi?

Lady's fingers.
Or okra, as the Americans call it. The word "okra" is of African origin and means "lady's fingers" in Igbo, a language spoken in Nigeria.
Botanical name : Hibiscus esculentus.
You're wondering about the word "hibiscus, are you not? Well, that is because this vegetable is a member of the mallow family of which the hibiscus is also a member.

Now, there is another indication that the bhendi and the hibiscus are related. Crush the petals of a hibiscus flower between your fingers and they  will be coated with the  a kind of slippery, gooey substance similar to that which comes out when you slice a bhendi.
It's also what makes a lot of people hate this vegetable but this is what makes it one vegetable that should often be part of your diet. You see, the gooey-guck is mucilage, a kind of dietary fibre vital for good health and to prevent or manage many diseases.
And this is how.
For one, like all dietary fibre, mucilage acts as a sponge, absorbing blood sugar and thus lowering it. That's critical to help prevent diabetes and also manage it.
For another, it is this very sponge-like property makes mucilage a great purifier, ridding irritated, inflamed tissues in the body of toxins, allergens etc, especially those that inflame and irritate stomachs and intestines. Also, the gut flora (good bacteria) that live in the our digestive tract and without which many digestive processes would be very difficult, love to feed off mucilage.
Finally, fibre of any kind is a wonderful mover and shaker - of our bowels, preventing constipation etc., etc. And soluble fibre - like mucilage - is particularly beneficial because it is not harsh like insoluble fibre (wheat bran for example) and so nudges er, things along firmly but gently...if you get my drift!
That's all very well, you're thinking, but what to do about the gooey-guck?
Well, that's why I started writing this in the first place.
One option is to fry the bhendis as we do in bhajis. (Some folks even deep-fry their bhendis!) But there is a equally delicious but morehealthy option that I learnt from my mother. And it is to roast them.
And here's how you do it...

Chop the bhendis. Now take a thick pan or kadai and ......

on a low heat, gently roast the bhendis till they char slightly, lose they firmness and are more than half-cooked

Now add them to pre-cooked dal (tuar works best) and make your favourite dal or sambar!

Incidentally, bhendis are also a good source vitamin C, many of the B vitamins and antioxidants....

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