Wash the okra with water and dry it really well using a clean kitchen towel. Cut off the tops and discard them. Slice okra thinly on a diagonal, about 1/4-inch thick.
Slice your onion to the same thickness. Take out your spices and have them ready by the stove.
Use a skillet large enough to hold all your vegetables in a single layer, and heat vegetable oil on medium heat. Add the black mustard seeds and urad dal and sauté until the seeds start to sputter and pop, and the dal gets brown.
Add the turmeric and red chili powder to the oil and stir for about 20 seconds, thenadd the onion and prepared okra. (Careful, because the spices burn easily. Adding the vegetables stops this from happening because it introduces moisture.) Stir well to incorporate the spices with the vegetables, and then use a wooden spoon to press the okra and onion onto the bottom of the skillet in an even layer. Allow the okra to brown for a few minutes before disturbing. Repeat about 4 times to add layers of caramelization. Do not add salt. You will add it after the okra is cooked. If the okra is not browning, turn up the heat a bit. When the okra is fully cooked, it will be nicely caramelized with just a touch of crunch.
Just before you turn off the heat, add a good pinch of salt, and mix it into the okra. This dish is also wonderful with a squeeze of fresh lime.
This Indian okra has a mild taste, and it will combine well with most Western food.For a tasty Indian dinner, enjoy okra and red onion sauté with basmati rice and any Indian lentil or bean dal. Add an Indian flatbread like roti or naan to complete the meal. (Links go to other Buttered Veg recipes)We also greatly enjoyed leftovers of Indian okra sauté mixed with basmati rice, like a pilaf. I could imagine this as a fancy side dish to complement your favorite dinner main.
Black mustard seeds are ubiquitous in South Indian cooking. They have a pungent and nutty flavor, much more so than the yellow mustard seeds commonly used in the West.To release their flavor, most recipes require heating the seeds in oil until most of them pop, at which point either more ingredients are added to the dish, or the cook time is done.If you do not have black mustard seeds, just leave them out of the recipe. I encourage you to invest in this wonderful spice when you are ready.See Indian Ingredient Substitutions for more information.Split urad dal is a small white bean, available online or in Indian grocery stores. If you do not have it, it is fine to leave it out.Red chili powder is an Indian chili. It is very similar to cayenne, so you can substitute with cayenne powder if this is all you have. The red chili adds pungency and burning heat, so adjust the amount to your taste. I suggest adding at least a tiny bit to obtain the benefits of the ingredient. This dish will not be the same without it.This Indian Okra Sauté is an example of what I call a South Indian spiced vegetable side dish. For more vegetables cooked like this, see How to Cook Any Vegetable South Indian Style.