Trouble, trouble trouble….I remember my mom’s Greek friend, George, asking me to prepare an Okra dish for him when I was just a cub chef. I was about 17 years old at the time and had not even tasted this vegetable before. I completely panicked…there was a time in our lives when Google did not exist and recipe books where not as popular as they are now! I tried to prepare a dish with okra and chicken – needless to say, it was a disaster. I plated up my disaster and watched as my mom and George stared at it with horror. George had a good old laugh about the sticky, gooey mess. My mom, however, was clearly not impressed. My mom and George never asked me to cook an okra dish again….in my book, this is the best ‘happily ever after’!
The trouble with okra is that it can be so sticky and unappetizing if it is not cooked properly. Actually, even the simplest of ingredients can turn into a cooking disaster. Okra is also known as Lady Fingers or Bhindi and is popular in Indian, African, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. It is also used in the classic American gumbo. I prefer the crispy fried version to the gooey, glutinous consistency of stewed okra. When buying this versatile vegetable, ensure the pods are fresh by bending the tip. They should snap easily and not be soft. Also choose the younger, tender pods as the older ones can be very chewy. Here are some quick tips for preventing okra from becoming sticky: I slice the okra and place it on a tray. Leave this to ‘dry out’ for about an hour before cooking. Add salt after the okra has been cooked when making a stew, curry and casserole. Fry the okra and add sprinkle it over a cooked curry or casserole. Here is my recipe for Crispy Okra which can be served as a snack or a side dish.
15ml basmati rice
100g chickpea flour (chana flour)
2,5ml onion seeds
5ml ground cumin
5ml red chilli powder
5ml dried mango powder (amchur), optional
Salt to season
Sunflower oil, to deep fry
Curry leaves, to garnish
Wash the okra under cold running water. Place the okra in a colander and leave to drain. Wipe off excess water with absorbent paper towel. Slice the okra pods and spread out on a tray. Place the basmati rice into a coffee grinder and process until fine. Combine the ground rice and chickpea flour in a mixing bowl. Add the onion seeds, ground cumin, turmeric, red chilli powder, dried mango powder and salt. Add enough cold water to make a thick batter. Coat the okra in the batter. Heat the sunflower oil in a thick bottomed pan. Drop the okra into the hot oil using a tablespoon. Fry the okra for a few minutes until golden brown. Drain in a colander and dab off excess oil with absorbent paper towel. Fry the curry leaves until crispy and place them over the fried okra. Serve immediately.
Long grain rice can be used in this recipe.
Fry the okra in batches to ensure that they are crispy.
Dried mango powder can be purchased at Indian grocers and spice stores.