A while ago now, ThirdCat put in a request for some okra recipes that didn’t reduce the squat green fingers to the mucousy texture they are renowned for. I hadn’t seen any decent okra about until the other day, when I was reminded of my promise.
Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian* has a substantial section on okra, driven, it would seem, by the author’s own tastes. She writes ‘According to my mother, the two foods I took to most after leaving her breast (at age two) were both mucilaginous—okra was one and urad dal the other’. This doesn’t really bode well for ThirdCat’s proviso, especially when I’m not entirely averse to the slimy manifestations of okra myself. Nevertheless, Jaffrey does offer some great advice for discouraging the mucilage which is really down to the preparation and cooking style you choose.
Before you start cooking though, it’s important to be careful in your selection of okra. I’ve seen okra in Woolworths plenty of times, but the fingers have just been too big, so you know the seeds are going to massive and the taste not terrible nice. Jaffrey advises ‘the smaller pods are more tender’ and I liken the selection process to that of zucchinis; you’re not trying to buy the results of the biggest vegetable competition, you’re buying for texture and taste.
In terms of preparation, Jaffrey treats them like mushrooms, suggesting you wipe them with a damp cloth while they’re whole. If they’ve got lots of brown on them though, she recommends washing them quickly and drying them thoroughly, leaving them to air dry even. This apparently discourages the mucilage. I’m not sure I could be bothered myself. I suppose it depends if you’re going to cook them whole in a stew or soup or slice them up to fry.
If you really hate the slimy manifestations of okra, then frying is the way to go. Jaffrey says that through frying okra ‘all its mucilage disappears entirely’. I’ve done it the easiest way for this post. A recipe isn’t really required, since I just sliced it on the diagonal and pan-fried it on a medium heat until it coloured, then seasoned it with salt and pepper.
Here I just scattered it over a basic chickpea and tomato dish, and served it with couscous.
After I wrote the above section, I took myself off to the Valley to visit the Indian grocers I used to frequent when I worked at the dreaded call centre. I bought some chickpea flour there so I could use the rest of okra I had, and also to offer you something a bit more involved than pan-fried okra. I decided on the okra fritters because I think that maybe even ThirdCat’s kittens might enjoy these.
To begin, cut 225g of okra length-ways into 3mm slices. I figured that meant into thirds so I went with that for ease.
Next you’re supposed to remove the seeds by scraping them away with the tip of the knife. I wasn’t too fussy about this, some got left behind but since the okra was small it didn’t affect the digestibility of the final product in any way.
Measure 115g of chickpea flour into a bowl, slowly add 200ml of cold water, mixing as you go. I had to put down my whisk while I added the water. Whenever I read this kind of instruction, I wonder. I guess there are people in the world who have bowls that stay securely on their benches. You should aim for the consistency of a pancake batter. I can’t really help you if you’ve never made pancakes—on the thin side, I suppose.
Add some salt, cayenne pepper and ground turmeric. I tend to be a bit Jamie Oliver in these measurements, some good hearty pinches. Go lightly on the cayenne pepper if you’re a baby (or a kitten) when it comes to hot things.
Heat up four cm of oil in a deep pan. Set the burner for a low medium heat, because these are quite slow cooking compared to other fried things I think. Add the okra into the batter.
Place individual pieces of the okra into the oil, making sure they don’t touch. The recipe suggests that the okra requires around 17 minutes to cook through properly, but I found 8 to 10 minutes worked well for me. I can’t account for the discrepancy; perhaps it’s best just to keep an eye on it and have a taste/texture test when you think they’re getting near.
After removing the okra from the pan and draining them on absorbent paper, I sprinkled it with sea salt and dipped the fritters in chilli jam.
I liked the chick pea batter a lot. The oil drained away from it really well so the fritters weren’t at all greasy. The okra was soft, with only a hint of viscosity; I don’t think you’ll ever get rid of it entirely, but it’s certainly possible to minimise it.
Bon apétit, mes petits escargots!
* I have a hard-back edition that seems to be a slightly older version to the one linked here.