Sri Lankan tempered okra curryOkra is called ladies fingers in English in Sri Lanka or bandakka in Sinhala. I’m used to calling it okra, so that’s what I’ll go with. πŸ™‚

One of Fahim’s cousin, knowing that I’m interested in cooking Sri Lankan food, gave me a Sri Lankan cookbook a year or so back. It’s called Ceylon Cookery by Chandra Dissanayake, M. Sc., Principal, School of Home Economics, Sri Lanka. I add that extra bit so you know her credentials. πŸ™‚

Inside, printed at the front of the book, it also specifies that “The Translation of this Book is available in Sinhala. Sinhala Edition Rs.20.00”. Random capitalization aside, it tells me that this cookbook probably sold for Rs. 20, or about US$0.20. Granted, it was published in December 1968, so prices were significantly lower then, but still.

It’s a useful cookbook with authentic Sri Lankan recipes – Hallelujah! And I’ve tried a number of recipes in this cookbook, and while I’m sometimes confused (what’s the volume of a bottle, anyway? and what’s sera, kum kum, or billing?), the recipes I’ve tried have turned out very well. We’re generally quite happy with how the dishes turn out. Experimentation pays off. πŸ™‚

So, in search of a new-for-me okra dish, I consulted this cookbook, and this is the recipe I used. (recipe #223, page 255).

Ladies Fingers – Tempered


  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves
  • 2 green chillies, sliced or minced
  • 1/4 cup onions, chopped
  • 1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons red chilli pepper powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek
  • 1 tablespoon Maldive fish flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 500 grams okra, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk, thick


  1. Sri Lankan tempered okra curryHeat oil in a pan until very hot, then add curry leaves, green chillies, and onions. Saute for a few minutes, then add the red chilli powder, turmeric, fenugreek, Maldive fish flakes, and salt and cook until onions are caramelized.
  2. Add the okra and toss for 5 minutes.
  3. Add coconut milk and simmer until most of the liquid is gone and only a thick gravy remains.

Virgin coconut oil, the stuff that’s solid below 27C and has a subtle coconut smell, is preferred as it adds a nice, subtle flavour to curries. If you can’t get it, use an unscented oil of your choosing. Yes, that means extra virgin olive oil is out – it has the completely wrong flavour for this. πŸ™‚

If you can’t get curry leaves (available at many Asian shops and markets), omit. There is no substitute.

If you don’t have red chilli pepper powder, use cayenne or paprika. If you have a difficult time with spicy foods, go on the low end of the amount suggested or reduce even further. Alternately, substitute black pepper – it’ll have a different flavour, but won’t be as hot.

Maldive fish flakes ought to be available at Asian markets. Alternately, you can try dried shrimp or omit.

Fahim and I were both quite happy with how this okra curry turned out. Actually, Fahim downright loved it. I’ll definitely be making this again. πŸ™‚

9 Replies to “Tempered Okra Curry”

  1. Hi Laurie, it’s lovely to discover a blog on Sri Lankan food! A few months ago I had the pleasure to cook with a wonderful Sri Lankan lady here in the UK and fell in love with her food. Some of the dishes I learnt, like her lentil curry and varar have become regulars in my kitchen (I’ve posted the recipes on my blog, too).

    I think ‘sera’ is lemongrass, if I remember correctly from speaking to her. I can ask her what what kum kum and billing are if you want.

    Maninas’s last blog post..Eating with the Seasons: Asparagus

  2. Maninas, welcome!

    Lentil curry I make often enough, but varar I hadn’t heard of. I checked out the recipe on your blog, and it looks good and like something I would enjoy. Quite similar to gova mallung (cabbage with coconut).

    Sera is lemongrass – Fahim, the husband, confirmed that for me just after I published this entry. Billing is a vegetable, one I saw once for about five seconds, but haven’t tasted. It’s the foreignness of it all. πŸ™‚ Kum kum I still don’t know, but honestly, I can ask my mother-in-law when I really need to know.

    Added to that that I finally learned what a bottle is – 700 ml, the size of an arrack bottle.

    So many mysteries solved today. πŸ˜€

  3. Laurie, is your blog searchable? It may be the fatigue but I wanted to search and am incompetent to.

  4. Anne, yes, my blog is searchable. There’s a search bar at the top of the right sidebar on every page.

    If you don’t find what you’re looking for or want my help, let me know what you’re looking for and I’ll point you to it. πŸ™‚

  5. It just occurred to me that I should look at it, and the search bar doesn’t actually say “Search”, it’s just an empty box with “Go” below it. I think I shall have to label it to make it more clear…

    ETA: The SEARCH label has been added. That should clear things up for you. Thanks for making me notice that. I wonder how many other people wanted to search and didn’t realize what that was for?

  6. Thank you!

    I really should be asleep instead of on your blog, but… You know.

    I probably would have figured that out if I wasn’t so danged tired. (But not sleepy. πŸ™ )

  7. Kohomeda, Laurie! Mage nama, Marvy. I lived in Sri Lanka for a couple years and totally enjoyed it there. I miss a lot of the foods now that I am back in the US. I’ve made Pol Sambol a year ago, but it’s different without the maldive fish flakes and it wasn’t too easy cracking a fresh coconut and shaving the insides after. But, I did use fish sauce instead, but it isn’t the same. Are you here in the US? Know of any online store that sells the fish flakes? I read you could substitute Japanese bonito flakes, but haven’t tried that. Anyway, your cooking adventures look fun and I will read more on it down the road. I do a lot of cooking demos, so would like to refresh my Sri Lankan ways down the road.
    Very nice blog. I ought to do one one day.

    1. Ayubowan, Marvy. πŸ˜€ You’ve already figured out that I live in Sri Lanka. Sorry, I have no idea about stores in the US or online. Have you tried Asian shops?

      The Maldive fish flakes is dried tuna that’s been flaked. You might be able to get something if you word it that way. I’ve also read, but haven’t tried, that you can use dried shrimp in the place of the Maldive fish flakes.

      I’ve also been told by USians that some Asian/Indian shops (and even restaurants!) in the US will sell frozen shredded coconut. You could give that a try if you don’t want to scrape your own. Alternately, some shops (as I’ve been told) have electric coconut scrapers and can scrape a coconut or three for you on the spot. I would definitely suggest looking into that. πŸ™‚

      By the way, I have instructions on how to crack a coconut. My method is what my husband and mother in law taught me, and while it takes a bit of practice, isn’t difficult. Check it out and see if it helps you. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for visiting and commenting. πŸ™‚

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