To retain most of the nutrients, bhindi should be cooked as little as possible, says Thilaka Baskaran
Bhindi, also known as lady's finger, gumbo or bamyah is from the Malvaceae family to which cotton belongs.
Its origin is disputed between South Asia and West Africa. It is cultivated throughout India and the common hybrids are Pusa sawan and Pusa makhmali.
The plant cannot tolerate cold and so in winter it becomes a rarity in the markets. If you are planning to grow bhindi this will be the ideal time to start as summer is soon to set in.
An annual shrub, bhindi can vary in height from 60 cm to 2 m. When pruned, it can branch out and spread up to 80 cm.
It produces yellow hibiscus-like flowers that quickly give way to slender five-ribbed mucilaginous pods. It takes hardly ten days for the flowers to become harvestable pods.
The plant thrives in well-drained, loamy soil. Prepare the ground by digging at least one spade depth, and remove all stones, sticks and debris.
Mix farm manure and a handful of fertilizer rich in potash. Once the bed is prepared, plant the seeds one cm below the soil and space plants 45cm to 1 meter apart depending upon the variety.
The seeds have a hard coat and soaking them in lukewarm water for 24 hours prior to planting helps in germination.
Water the bed every day with a watering can. Seeds will germinate in seven to 10 days. Water the plant every day till it has four leaves.
After that, it can be watered two to three times a week. Pinching out the growing tips promotes a bushy growth. The first flowers will appear in 45 to 55 days.
Give a side dressing of manure during this period. The pods will be ready for harvesting in the next 10 days. Pests and disease are not a problem with this plant.
Chewing pests can attack the foliage but this does not harm the pods. Aphids can be controlled by soap spray.
Pick when young
Bhindi is tastiest when picked young, just when it's about 10-cm-long. It gets fibrous and stringy soon.
Well-cared for plants will yield pods for the next 50 to 60 days. Wear a glove while harvesting; the sap and the leaf spines can irritate the skin.
It is rich in carotene, vitamin C, folic acid, calcium and iron.
Ayurveda recommends bhindi for the treatment of constipation and acid reflux. Research shows that the mucilaginous soluble fiber and the insoluble fiber in bhindi binds cholesterol.
Ways to enjoy it
Bhindi can be curried, deep fried, stir fried or eaten raw.
In many countries it is added to soup to give body.
To retain most of the nutrients, it should be cooked as little as possible.