Saturday, October 07, 2006

Gastropod: Okra

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.


clare said...

You are some cook, Galaxy! I am very impressed.

Galaxy said...

Thanks Clare. Would the M&Ms eat the fritters do you think? Or would they evoke the same suspicion as your fish dish?

ThirdCat said...

Galaxy, that is gorgeous. I feel as good as if you had rocked up at my front door with a hot wok full of okra.

And what Clare said. You look to be an amazing cook. But I will give this a try.

Galaxy said...

TC when they perfect the science of tele-portation, I will be on your doorstep ; )

And for someone who hands out stuffed artichokes at various blog soirees, I think you might not be a bad cook yourself. Love to know how your okra turns out.

Tseen said...

I've never been convinced that okra is a food I should have to eat, and that's after trying various Southeast Asian ways of cooking it (curries, stirfries, etc), as well as some other traditional forms (e.g. gumbo).

It's the gooeyness. I can't get past it, and even if it doesn't become a gooey mess, the slimy texture just does my head in...


Zoe said...

I guess there are people in the world who have bowls that stay securely on their benches.

Have you tried a moist thickish handtowel under the bowl, either doubled over or rolled into a little ring? And how anal does that make me sound ; )

I would very happily tuck into either of those dishes right now. And while I also quite like the goo factor, I think there is a Claudia Roden de-gooing trick involving soaking in vinegar which I will hunt up if it will make the lovely 3C even happier.

David said...

I have never had a problem with the okra 'mucilage', but I know some people are completely appalled by it. Both these dishes look incredible.

Galaxy said...

Well, Tseen, at least you've tried it, and tried it again, etc... Sometimes you just don't like a vegetable, I guess.

Thanks for the tip Zoe, I will try the damp hand towel, save me trying to grow a third arm.

With those kinds of compliments, David, I might just teleport to your doorstep too, when the scientists have it all sorted.

Suse said...

She hands out stuffed artichokes at blog soirees?

I am so moving to Adelaide ...

Anonymous said...

For some reason the sort of ikky state that zucchini gets into when it is overcooked gets to me the way okra does to some others.

A good gumbo is deeelicious.. and i think it relies on the mucilagenous quality of okra, doesn't it?

- barista

Galaxy said...

Do you know, barista, I don't think I've actually had gumbo. Clearly something I must rectify. I wonder if I could make it myself?

Suse, I've only had 3C's stuffed artichokes in a virtual sense, but they sound so good, I'm plotting ways to get to Adelaide too.

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