July 9, 2011

Okra, Basmati & Kadhi

July 9, 2011
Okra must be the prettiest fruit pod among the perennials. When cut into slices the pieces look like small flowers. However, its beauty comes with controversy. It is mucilaginous and turns into slime if cooked without precaution! In some cultures gooiness is considered virtuous, lending an exotic character and texture to food. I’m glad I was introduced to okra in India, where it is usually fried to the perfection of crispiness. I’ve had occasional cooking disasters in the kitchen to know my preference. Goo is not cool!


There are several ways to prepare okra, most common being deep (and shallow) frying. Although the aroma of vegetables seems to love it, the method is strenuous to the digestion. In rare situations when going around is not possible, I give in. It is a justifiable cooking process during festivals and special events when high quality frying ghee is abundantly available and small portions of multiple preparations are served, but to soak food in an excess amount of fat in daily basis doesn’t attract me.  My liver revolted years ago. In the Western world we are blessed with an oven. No matter the type of vegetable in need of roasting, oven delivers almost as well as a pot of hot ghee or oil. It applies to okra, too.

To reduce sliminess, okra is cut when absolutely dry. After washing the pods with cold water you can let them air dry or tap them dry with a towel. If you make sure the utensils are dry as well, you’ll be fine. Coating okra with chickpea flour or similar before frying will help, too.

As a plant, okra is generous. It is related to species like cocoa, cotton and hibiscus. Every part can be utilized in cooking. Leaves and stalks are used like spinach or salad. Flowers are edible as well. During World War II, the shortage of coffee beans resulted in using okra seeds as a substitute for coffee. It is one of the most heat and drought tolerant vegetable plants in the world.

Besides pretty, okra is delicious as well. It has a mild and soft taste that handles spices well. In fact, it is often served as a piquant starter for a greater meal or a side dish of a simple lunch. Fresh yoghurt compliments it well. I served it with piping hot white basmati-rice and fragrant kahdi soup (or sauce) for an early afternoon snack. I kept okra and kadhi separately, but they can be combined as a dish, too. In such case, okra is cut into smaller, bite-size chunks.


OVEN FRIED OKRA

Okra
Hing
Turmeric
Cayenne
Ground coriander
Cinnamon, cloves and cardamom
Ghee or oil
Salt
Chickpea flour (besan) for coating
Desiccated coconut

Wash and let okra dry
Slit on half lengthwise
Rub in just enough oil or ghee to lightly cover the vegetables
Sprinkle liberally with spices, but don’t overdo with cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.
Add a good amount of chickpea flour to coat okra well
Let it stand for 10 minutes before placing into the oven
Place on an oven tray (single layer only)
Roast in the middle section in 220 C until they are becoming evenly golden
You may have to turn them around once or twice
A few minutes before you are ready to take them out, add coconut and let turn golden (if you add coconut in the beginning, it will burn)

Okra is quick to make. It shouldn’t take more than 15-20 minutes in the oven. In the meanwhile, you can boil rice and make kadhi. In 30 minutes you have a base meal! Who said cooking was laborious?

HOW TO BOIL RICE WITHOUT MAKING IT MUSHY OR STICKY

Buy best quality basmati. It is fragrant and tasty. And light and easily digestible by all body types.

If you are cooking small amounts, let say less than 2 litres of rice, the thumb rule is: 2 portions liquid to every portion of rice. It usually works well. For bigger amounts, less liquid is added per portion.

In the well educated cooking circles rice is not considered edible for humans if no butter or ghee is added to it! They draw out the aroma. The best way to cook rice is to sauté it in a small amount of ghee before adding liquid.  It requires rice to be washed and dried beforehand. Wet rice will set on fireworks when coming in contact with hot ghee. It is dangerous! When placed in hot ghee, rice will turn translucent, hard and white. The idea is not to brown or char it, but to quickly let it absorb the ghee. It will help the grains remain separate and result in fluffy, airy rice.

If you don’t want to mess up with the end result, add boiling water instead of cold water. Once you have added the water, add salt, mix quickly, turn the stove to a low temperature and let the rice simmer for 20 minutes without disturbing, with a lid on!  Don’t sniff or peek in. Definitely don’t stir and shake the pot. It will be ready when it is ready. Cooking rice is very zen!

When it is ready, you may squeeze a half of lemon in and let it stand 10 more minutes. It should be perfect.


KADHI (Yoghurt soup)

5 dl water
2 dl coconut cream
5 dl yoghurt
½ dl chickpea flour
1 ts turmeric
1-2 ts cayenne
2 ts dry roasted, ground fenugreek
1 tbs raw sugar or jaggery

Tempering:
Ghee or oil
Thumb-size piece of ginger, grated and juice pressed out
1 ts mustard seeds
A pinch of hing
1 ts black pepper
10-20 curry leaves
Salt to taste

Bring water and coconut cream into boil
Mix yoghurt with chickpea flour, powdered spices and sugar
Add mixture into the boiling water
Whisk well
Turn down the temperature
Let it simmer for about 20 minutes until it has become thicker, rich soup
Heat up ghee or oil
Add grated ginger and let it become light golden colour, you will have to move it with spatula, otherwise it won’t brown evenly
Add mustard seeds
When they are cracking and popping, add hing, black pepper and curry leaves
A few seconds later, pour the spices into the soup and mix well
Add  the ginger juice and salt to taste

By adding more or less chickpea flour / water you can regulate the thickness of the sauce.

You can substitute cayenne with fresh chilies. In doing so, add them while tempering ginger.

27 comments:

  1. Such a perfect combination of flavor .. the crispy okra with that smooth kadhi with that basmati rice to add some starch. This is comfort food!

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  2. Beautiful Post! I have eaten okra ll my life but didn't know that the leaves and stalks are edible! Now I am really curious to try what that tastes like!
    I pan fry okra with very little oil and it turns out perfectly crispy instead of slimy. But the trick is to let it cook/roast in low heat and not mix it with a spoon. If needed just toss it once or twice during roasting. So I think it's exactly like roasting it in an oven, the Indian way :)

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  3. Wow I love how you photograph the ingredients so simply but in such a way that is unique to you and brings a feeling of tranquility to the viewer. I'm so glad to see the okra is oven-fried. I've actually never prepared okra or rarely eaten it. We do have a ridged melon in China that is its plant relative I believe. Great jobs on cooking rice - I must admit we pretty much just rinse, add water, and click on the ricemaking machine ;p. Not very zen now, is it?

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  4. I prepare okra this way too - call it bharwan bhindi - but I haven't been able to do justice to the taste! Not with such tranquil pictures.

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  5. I like that you used coconut cream for your kadhi. I never tried that. Beautiful pictures :-)

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  6. I tasted okra few times in my life and never liked it. But I'm gonna to give it a try last time and use your recipie. LOve the yellow-white backgruond on khadi photo. Did you make it yourself? How? I'm so glad you started your blog. Love.

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  7. Hi Laksmi! I love all your photos here... very soft and calm :) I think I'll try your Kadhi (I have never heard of it) because it's very interesting... Thank you!

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  8. Thanks for the support, girls. I'm embarrassed to post Indian based preps knowing that many visitors are privy to recipe traditions for generations of Indian mothers. Although my mother is a good cook by the local standard, she, like 90% of the Westerners (ok, maybe Italians excluded) don't come even close to the definition of cooking by an Indian mother. Nor did my mother pass on any recipes. I learnt to cook by trial and error when I got married. My cooking is a fusion of East meets West.

    Another thing is that I feel strange to photograph Indian food on porcelain. It doesn't sit well. There is a conflict of aesthetics. I feel like placing a penguin on the Mediterranean beach. What is your input and experience on this?

    Cinmayie, you'd be surprised how many plants are edible! We utilize little of the variety. Nature provides plenty of eatables by herself, but we have turned our back to her by relying solely on cultivated land. There are numerous common weeds that far superior in taste and nutrition.

    Xiaolu, I thought ridged melon is similar to bitter melon, korela? It is prepared in a similar fashion but has a different taste. Okra is mild and undefined by itself, which is enforced by the obscure texture when cooked.

    Kulsum, I discovered coconut cream once by chance while making kadhi. I ran out of yoghurt and extended it with coconut milk. It worked well. It adds a soft, rich dimension to tangy yoghurt.

    Cintamani, there are painted planks on the background. Homemade :-).

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  9. Bhindi looks so delicious will try ur version sometime,kadhi reminds me of my mom and thanks for the tip for rice

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  10. Laksmi, this is wonderful. I love okra! In Vietnam, we often cook a sour soup with them :). I'll try your recipe, too!

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  11. I absolutely adore okra, however have a tough time finding good ones here. AND I absolutely love kadhi - I add little onion/potato pakoras to it. Now that is exactly what I am craving!

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  12. Another tip I thought you might like - my mom slices her okra in the morning and puts it out in the sun so that the slime will dry out - and cooks it at night. As a child I used to love okra, now I rarely eat it.
    I absolutely adore your style of photography. The way you capture light. Your okra looks so delicious that I might be persuaded to have some again.

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  13. Gorgeous pictures Lakshmi. I have tried roasting okra in the oven. Though it looked crispy it was still slimy inside. I have to try your method.

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  14. Never have roasted okra in the oven, so thanks for the idea. This looks so good, I would have invited myself over for the meal if you weren't so far away. :)

    I know what you mean by photographing Indian food on porcelain, especially if you are aiming for authenticity or a creating a particular mood. Sometimes the browns and yellows of Indian food do look best in/ on white, in pictures. We traditionally use steel which isn't great when you have to photograph it!
    But maybe dull silver or earthenware would work sometimes.

    Lakshmi, ridge melon (we call it ridge gourd or "peerkangai" in my mother tongue Tamil) is different from bitter melon/ gourd or "karela".
    Ridge gourd is longer in size and has long defined ridges along its length, while bitter gourd is shorter and has a lot of little elongated and sharpish "bumps". :)
    Ridge gourd is somewhat bland in taste and mostly takes on the flavours of whatever you cook it in.

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  15. It is so great to see you blogging, Lakshmi! I've waiteda long time for this moment to come.
    I promise to be your Fan no.1! :)

    best wishes,
    Egle

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  16. Thanks!

    Aparna, thanks for clearing out about ridge melon.

    Regarding photography, you are right there, too. Metals, earthware and wood work the best. Next time I go to India, I'll get my hands on kitchenware. I hate shopping in general, and I especially hate it in India, although it is a paradaise for shoppers. Once there, I don't want to waste a moment. I rather do bhajan. I'm the type who'd likes to do shopping at the airport just before departing :-) Unfortunately they don't have interesting shops there and the prices are crazy.

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  17. I'm glad I came across your blog. And yes, okra IS so slimy, but you have staged this veggie nicely, so maybe me and okra can be friends now. hmmm. might have to try this!

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  18. I have been following your work on flickr for a while now but have never seen any links to your blog till now and was wondering how to get hold of it :) Thanks for putting it up..a big fan of your photographs and now your blog too! :)

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  19. I love roasting vegetables too and do it to most vegetables! I even bake samosas as I dislike deep frying and am trying to make recipes to bake all the traditional deep fried dishes.

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  20. this is perfect ! love the combination :-)

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  21. Bhindi looks so delicious will try ur version sometime,kadhi reminds me of my mom and thanks for the tip for rice

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  22. loved. the line" cooking rice is very zen" it is so true.
    often in india when girls come to marriagable age, friends and familes make fun by asking the girl, do you atleast know how to cook rice?:)

    I am amrried for10 years and even today my husband complains that I cannot cook rice perfectly:)
    i always blame the quality of rice:)

    loved the okra....

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  23. Anju, LOL :-). I'm using the same line about the quality of rice :-).

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  24. I love okra but back in the UK I found it difficult for it not to turn out slimy but here in the UAE it's never gone slimy for me. I think the reason is because it so much fresher and younger. I always buy the smaller okra and make sure it is fresh. The following is the way I like to cook it. Fry onions, add fresh chilli and ginger. Cook for a few minutes then add chopped fresh tomatoes add a touch of cumin. Then add the okra, cook for a few minutes until just tender and finally season with salt and pepper and a good squeeze of fresh lemon. Delicious.

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  25. Sounds good, Fiona. You are probably right about the freshness of okra, too. The smaller ones are better than large.

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  26. All About okra nutrition. Okra is a popular vegetable of the housewives. The interesting thing is that it contains more nutrients for good health, such as fiber, mucilage, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, niacin, calcium, potassium, magnesium, folic acid, iron.Very good for health.

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  27. WoW!! I am in love with the simplicity of your blog. I am a vegetarian as well and recently married so i am always looking for new recipes. Going to try as mamy as i can. :)

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