Bhendi chey Panchamrut (भेंडी चे पंचामृत)
“Yummm! What’s this?” a friend asks as she slurps up the sweet and sour luscious okra in a spicy, nutty tomato sauce.
“This is called panchamrut”, I reply, and then true to my chatty nature and schoolmarm spirit, labour an explanation of the two component words, panch meaning five and amrut meaning nectar and how it refers to the five tastes and so on…
Even as I explain, I am struck by the onerous name this simple dish carries, especially if it is made with bhendi, a mucilage seeping vegetable abhorred by more people than not. Amrut! Indeed!
But how different is it from other euphemistic names? Now you must read this part without judging me.
I have this penchant for names, and note (and comment on) the aptness or the tactlessness of them. Ever wondered how a baby named Tarun will feel about his name as a septuagenarian? Can you suppress your smile at the puny Vishal or the mighty “Chotu” or the emaciated guy named Ashtabhuja? I don’t think I should go any further into the unfortunate looking Sundari and the dark complexioned Shweta, for the fear of risking a bullying/name-calling charge…
That reminds me of the story of “Thanthanpal” that Mai our maternal grandmother used to tell us. She was a great storyteller and I remember us kids listening to her stories rapt, pricking up our ears to the signs of conclusion in her voice as the story drew to a close and intercepting in time to beg her for another one.
We would be lolling on the गाद्या (cotton filled futons) on the huge गच्ची (terrace) on cool and starry nights during our summer sojourn in Latur. A spraying of water in the early evening would have cooled the floor tiles. The gaadis would then be unrolled and covered wrinkle free with spotless sheets that would get freshened by the time the gang made their way up to the terrace after a hearty meal. It was a caucus of cousins, siblings, aunts and uncles.
Diwan Bunglow would indeed be houseful!
Even the aunty/mummy type ladies gossiped till wee hours themselves and were on no jury to shush us to sleep. Excited at meeting each other after a while, they chatted away, sharing their joys and sorrows, picking on in-laws and then each other when all else was spent. Then someone would deflect the “discussassination” to those who were not present. Family politics… blame game… sibling rivalry… But never to be estranged for long, they would come back, come around, bound by their undying love for each other.
We kids used to monopolise Mai, who perhaps wanted to join these womenfolk born of her. We would sit around, sprawl, and then finally end up lying beside her on the cool sheets listening to all kinds of stories. Mythological, humorous, horror, fables, poetic, whimsical - Mai’s repertoire was infinite. We never had enough of her stories and would beg her to tell us one more after another, till we drifted off to sleep.
Or, till she threatened us with the कापूस कोंड्याची गोष्ट. The “kapuskondyachi goshta” was a different kind of a horror non-story, where the teller doesn’t take “no” for an answer and twists the listener’s responses into infinite, endless questions.
Like the yarn I have spun so far.
One of our favourites was that of a boy named Thanthanpal who is (understandably) upset with his parents for naming him thus. Now I am struggling to find a politically correct translation of this word. Suffice to say, that this was not a flattering name for a bright young boy, who (perhaps justifiably) ran away from home.
Mai would then invent characters this boy met on his peregrination. All of them invariably had ironic names- a wench named Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) making dung cakes and sweeping streets, a rich merchant named Fakirchand and so on… We would pitch in hysterically, adding our own paradoxical funnies. This is possibly one of the earliest fan fiction phenomena I knew of.
Somewhere, sometime, we would fall silent one by one, amidst Mai’s pleas that she had to rise early in the morning. We never really knew who covered us with the soft hand-stitched godhadi quilt made with old-sarees that smelled of Mai. They were as soft and warm as her affection…
If the prodigal Thanthanpal realised his folly and returned to the warmth of “good ol” home thinking “बरे बिचारे ठणठणपाळ ! ”, why can’t the bichari behenji bhendi luxuriate in the pious panchamrut?
Bhendi chey Panchamrut
The panchamrut is a tamarind-based sauce that is an integral inclusion in a festive meal or a naivedya platter. It could be because it does not have onions and garlic, which are an anathema for “सणाचा स्वयंपाक ” or festive cooking.
The panchamrut genre can be a generous host to most vegetables – but notably to भेंडी (okra) , कैरी (raw mango) पेरू (guava). I generally use tomato as a base and add a little tamarind.
3 cups bhindi/okra – washed and wiped dry and cut into 1inch pieces
1 cup finely chopped tomatoes
1 tsp tamarind extract, or to taste
2 -3 tbsp grated jaggery, or to taste
1 tbsp goda masala/garam masala
1 tbsp red chilli powder, or more
1 tbsp (freshly roasted and ground) coriander powder
1 tsp freshly ground cumin powder
Salt to taste
For the gravy mix
¼ cup peanuts
¼ cup desiccated coconut
¼ cup sesame seeds
1 tbsp chana dal (optional)
For the tempering
2-3 tbsps oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
¼ tsp cumin seeds
A few curry leaves
A few whole dried red chillies
¼ tsp hing
¼ tsp turmeric
Chopped coriander and grated coconut to garnish
Heat a pan and add the peanuts and roast for a minute, then add the chana dal and roast further until it turns light brown. Then add the sesame seeds and let them puff a little. Finally add the desiccated coconut and remove the pan from the as the heat of the mixture is enough to toast the coconut. Cool this mixture and powder coarsely in a dry grinder.
Heat the pan again and add the oil for the tempering and add the mustard seeds to splutter. Then add the cumin seeds, whole chillies, curry leaves, hing and turmeric. Then add the cut bhindi/okra and sauté it for a few minutes. Add the coriander and cumin powders and the goda/garam masala and sauté for a minute. Next add the tomatoes and sauté till the tomatoes start getting saucy. Add a cup of hot water and mix well. Then add the nut/dal mixture and let it boil and thicken into a sauce. Add more water to adjust the consistency. Add salt, jaggery, tamarind extract and check the taste. Let the sauce cook for 8-10 minutes, taking care to maintain the saucy consistency by adjusting the water.
Garnish with chopped coriander and grated coconut and serve hot or cold with rice, roti, bhakri or even with bread.
If serving with rice, it can be paired with sadha varan (plain cooked tuvar dal boiled with a hint of hing, haldi, salt and gur) and a spot of ghee. It can also be paired with dahi chawal.