“a Cinderella among vegetables”
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek
The quote above, is taken from a memoir of life in a remote citrus grove in 1940s Florida. Rawlings would blanch the small, tender pods for exactly seven minutes, and serve with bowls of hollandaise sauce for dipping to rescue them from their “lowly life, stewed stickily with tomatoes” or an equally awful fate, their “loss of identity in a Creole gumbo”.
That’s one way to solve the slimy, stickiness of okra, but personally I love the Indian solution (okra is often known as bhindi in India) which is to fry and dry. It has quite a bland taste so it absorbs spices very effectively.
Okra (also commonly known as ladies’ fingers for obvious reasons) didn’t originate in the American south, or in India, but in Africa (probably Ethiopia). And because it does well in tropical climates it’s available all year around.
Make sure that you buy bright coloured (not turning brown) okra which is still firm, and not turning soft.
Recipe for fried and dried okra
- 500g/1 lb okra
- 1 tsp Byadgi chilli or Aleppo pepper, or Urfa pepper (use a bit less of this)
- 8 curry plant leaves
- ½ tsp mustard
- Smoked or Maldon salt
- Rapeseed oil – a fair amount – you need enough to stir fry effectively
- Preheat the oven to 210ºC.
- Wash the okra whole, then dry roast for 15 minutes.
- Heat the oil in a wok and get it good and hot – just beginning to smoke.
- Meanwhile cut the okra into quite thin coins.
- Stir fry it together with the mustard, curry leaves and chilli or Turkish pepper flakes (Aleppo or Urfa) for three or four minutes, until crisp.
- Drain on some kitchen paper, sprinkle over generously with the salt, and serve immediately.