I first had these at my best friend Niharika’s lovely home. Her mum Khushnoor is the hostess with the mostest, a phenomenal woman who knows her way around everything that grows in a garden. Her lunch and dinner spreads are legendary. The food is always simple but powerfully nostalgia-inducing, the flavors fresh, authentic and clean. It’s the kind of simplicity that takes a lot of effort to achieve.
One day at a daal- and- rice lunch there was a small fragrant mountain of these sitting at the centre of the table, each crisp browned to perfection, all crackling texture and spicy deliciousness. I was too shy to ask for how she made them, but she mentioned the air fryer, and I immediately decided to buy one.
Reader, I haven’t regretted it. Not once.
I reverse-engineered the recipe a bit and Googled for snatches of wisdom; bhindi/ okra is notoriously difficult to tame. There are entire threads dedicated to eradicating its sliminess, and one darkly warns that nothing less than oil at flesh- melting temperatures will do. Luckily the air fryer’s heat settings enable efficient desiccation and the slime reduces to a pleasant umami that dissolves in your mouth with a puff of flavor.
Here’s how you make Bhindi Chips. I prefer mine with a garlicky dip.
What you need-
For the chips
– An air fryer. I use a Philips analog. I’m thrilled with the performance and the possibilities
– A large paraat. It’s a flat-bottomed steel or copper vessel the size of a big gong, most often used to sift stones from industrial quantities of grain or lentils. If you don’t have one, a large aluminium kadhaai will do.
– A long wooden spoon
– 1 Kg bhindi. The longer and bigger the better, as with most things in life *cough*. This yields enough for 4. Even if some is left over, you can seal it off in a Tupperware; it’s even better cold and is best had with chai
– 2 lemons
– A fistful of besan (chickpea flour)
– Mustard oil, half a katori/ cup. I buy mine from FabIndia. It’s cold-pressed, has a great sharp taste and is safe to consume. Mustard oil is the most adulterated cooking medium in India. I regret this so much because I consume gallons, and buying pricey little bottles every few weeks feels wrong
– Spices- red chilli powder, dhaniya powder (coriander powder), aamchoor (powdered dried raw mango for a citrusy boost to everything), garam masala. Salt to taste
For the dip
– A small skillet
– A mortar and pestle
– 1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled
– Half a beet, peeled
– 10-15 whole peppercorns. I keep mine in a mill so it’s easy to crack them into anything
– Hang 2.5 katories/ 2.5 big cups of yoghurt in some muslin or thin cotton. I use an ancient swatch from what used to be a sari or dupatta. It’s best to suspend the knotted bundle in the kitchen sink, slung over a tap. Squeeze the top gently so most of the water drains out and let gravity do the rest while you prepare your chips.
– Grate the beet and pop it in the fridge.
– Wash and dry the bhindi. The drying is crucial. I pat mine with a paper towel and let it sit under our aggressive fan for 15 minutes. Then, lop the tops off and slit it length-wise.
– In the paraat throw in the mustard oil, besan and small level spoonfuls of every spice except the chilli powder. Careful with the chilli powder and the salt- adjust levels per gut.
– Mix with bare fingers till a lovely turmeric yellow paste happens. Obliterate all clumps. Loosen with a few splashes of water at room temperature.
– Throw the bhindi in and move it around roughly so the paste smears on the pieces. Don’t worry about coating everything evenly- the fun is in the imperfection. Let it sit in the spices for 15-20 minutes.
– Switch on your air fryer, dial the knob to 160 degrees and the timer to 10 minutes. Pre heating is essential.
– When you’re ready to pop your bhindi in, cut the lemons and squeeze them into the paraat and move everything around so the juice seeps into the crevices. Dial the knob up to 180, set the timer to 20 minutes, and pop 1/4th of the bhindi (estimate visually) into the fryer. Pull the tray out and shake it up every 5 minutes, or disturb with a long wooden spoon so everything gets crisped uniformly.
– Separately, dry-roast the grated beets in your skillet. Don’t let the smoke and the intense aroma frighten you. Turn off the flame when the beets are noticeably darker and reduced in volume.
– Check on your yoghurt. It should be bleeding water in a thin stream by now. Squeeze the top of the muslin bundle some more so any residual liquid drains off. Decant what should now ideally be a beautiful creamy ball into a bowl. Smash the garlic and the pepper in the mortar and pestle, scoop it out and put it in the bowl with the roasted beet. Mix to gorgeously pink, eminently Instagrammable results. Pop back in the fridge.
– Keep checking on your bhindi for doneness. It shouldn’t be blackened, but a dark deep green smeared here and there with the brown of the roasted besan.
– Spoon gently into a plate and serve hot, all the better to scoop dollops of the chilled dip with.