Garden to Table


Summer garden bhaji is what I decided to make with my friend Meg’s gift of fresh veggies this week. A bhaji is basically a stir fry of shredded vegetables with turmeric, onions and other spices ( if desired). Meg’s garden bhaji was a combination of cabbage, green peppers and okra. I added the juicy red cherry tomatoes to a dry shrimp sauté. Some simple dal, lentil soup and rice complete deshi dinner night. Stir fry or bhaji is an easy solution to having little bits of a variety of vegetables.  A good wok is worth having in a busy kitchen. Mine just lives on my stove. This garden to table dinner is a product of west Lafayette, good friends who garden, south Asian cooking techniques and spices. Its a dinner that reminds me of my friend down the street with her bountiful garden, my Bhabi (sister-in-law) who first  taught me how to make a bhaji, my baby girl’s craving for “home food,” my southern-raised beloved’s request for dal and how I need to make this for my vegetarian, Indian-food aware friend, Kathy.  Food is magic in its ability to bring such diversity together, just like a mixed vegetable bhaji. 

Who inspires your dinner plate tonight?

Ohhhhhhkra! Two ways.

Who knew okra flowers were so stunningly beautiful! Apparently everyone who grows them. This beauty is from my super-gardener father-in-law, Dennis’ garden. I know…. okra can be sticky, fuzzy, and slimy when cooked. But somehow the beauty of the flowers helps me forgive those small okra vices. Not only did I get to marvel at the beauty of Dennis’ garden (which also included green beans, corn, peppers, eggplant and my favorite…. Tomatoes), I was also happy to receive the gifts of those blossoms. This is not fancy and abstract “farm to table” restaurant cooking. This is messy, personal and beautiful home garden cooking. My equally super-canner mother-in-law, Rachel, transforms the summer garden into bags of frozen fried okra, salsa, pepper jelly, creamed corn and more to enjoy year round. What a gift! Thank you, both for sharing the love, beauty and deliciousness of your garden. 

What to do when given a basket of goodies? I searched for recipes, of course! As you know, my fellow eaters, so much is out there. Most, very good. In the end, I didn’t want to take attention away from the okra experience by focusing on a new recipe. You know what it’s like….nervously shifting back and forth between screen and actuality, measuring, gauging, checking the images (like a correspondence theory of truth, hoping to match an idea with a reality, …..Very unsatisfying).

Instead, I decided to make two versions. My childhood version of okra, my mom’s favorite, Bengali bhaji, which basically means sautéed thinly sliced vegetables with sliced onions, tumeric, salt, chili peppers and other spices if desired. We had the okra bhaji with rice, salmon tikka (a south Asian version of bbq spice) and light a sweet and spicy tomato sauce ( made from garden tomatoes). I sent a picture of the dinner to my mom. She approved.

I also made fried okra to freeze, my new favorite. Did not turn out as yummy as Rachel’s, despite her gracious efforts to explain the process. Still very good. I cut the pieces a bit larger and added hot sauce to the buttermilk. I am concerned that the crispy bites will not make it to a freezer bag. Fried fish and okra is beginning to sound good for dinner tonight. 

What are your garden-cooking stories? Do gardeners cook differently from non-gardeners? Maybe they demonstrate an object oriented practice, by which the vegetables are not just ingredients but ways to absorb a beautiful and bountiful summer. It is magical, to be able to eat the experience of summer in the dead of winter, isn’t it? Or now…gotta go…time for dinner.

Wishing you happy summer eating or eating summer,


Dear Meg, my friend who asked for the recipe. I just cut the okra in bite size pieces, soaked them in buttermilk, hot sauce, salt and pepper, as desired. Shake off excess. Coat with a cornmeal and flour mixture. Shake off excess flour. Fry in oil. Enjoy!