Saturday, July 11, 2009

Picking the Perfect Okra

For any of you who live in the south, the Okra will be coming in soon. Those of you who live elsewhere and shop at Indian grocery stores, you are lucky enough to get okra year round. I love okra. My grandmother used to have her own garden in which she planted okra, corn, green beans, sometimes melons,lima beans, field peas and crowder peas. My favorite thing she would make would be boiled crowder peas(cooked in fat back of course) with fresh okra boiled on top. We also had great fried okra as well. Not the deep fried stuff completely coated with a batter, but sliced up and sprinkled with salt and pepper and lightly dusted with corn meal, then fried. Ahh delicious. I never learned how to fry it like that and was missing it terribly. Just like Bengali food that you cannot get in any restaurant here in the US, good southern food like grandma made is difficult to find when you eat out, especially in the north east where I live.
When my mother-in-law came to stay with us in Florida,she taught me how to make a fried okra dish that tasted very similar to my grandmother's. The first time I ate it, I thought I would cry, it was so good, easy to make, and similar in taste. I have found that the older I get, the more I want foods that I had as a child. It is a shame I never learned how to make alot of them, and my mother didn't either. Neither her or her sisters remember how my grandma fried chicken. What a shame.I would dearly love to have that recipe.
Later my mom did teach me to fry okra the way she does and my grandma did and luckily I can have it now anytime I want. It is always good to eat it with stew beef, cornbread, and cantaloupe.
When choosing okra, according to my mom, you want to pick the smaller pods because they are the most tender. In addition to that, my mother-in-law showed me a way to pick it out that is perfect every time. I am sure that those of you who shop at indian grocery stores and buy okra notice that the pointed ends are bent on alot of those pods. Well, there is a very good reason for that. When picking out okra you want to grab the okra and grasp it in a "thumbs up" manner holding the pod in your four curved fingers with the pointed end facing the ceiling. Snap the pointed end over with your thumb. If the end snaps off, it is fresh and will be very tasty. If it just bends and retracts, then don't buy it. It will be very fibrous and won't cook well.
I love both ways of cooking it and have included both recipes below.

My Grandma's Fried Okra

Okra- 1 lb. is a good place to start, but you can use however much you like.
Corn Meal- I use Martha White self rising corn meal but any finely ground corn meal will work. I always have to stock up when I go home for a visit because I can't find it in the northeast. This is great for making corn bread as well.
Vegetable Oil

Wash the okra well and cut the stems and the ends off. Cut the okra across into 1/4" slices, place them in a bowl, and coat with salt and pepper. Coat next with corn meal and mix all ingredients together well using your hands, until okra is well coated. There might be risidual corn meal in the bottom of the bowl. That is ok. What sticks to the okra will be all that you will need. It is not a thick coating.
Heat a pan on medium heat and put in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Put one piece of coated okra in the oil. When this browns, turn it over and brown the other side. If it is too brown you may have to adjust the heat down a tad. When this is completed, add all of the coated okra to the pan. Let sit for two minutes and stir occasionally. You want the coating to gradually get brown, not right away because the coating will burn,the okra will get hard on the inside,and it will taste terrible and raw. If the oil is totally absorbed, add a little more if needed. When the okra is tender, take a thin metal spatula and chop up the pieces a little bit. When it is close to being done, you will see that the corn meal coating is browned, not burnt and kind of sticks together and the okra is very tender.

My 10 year old nephew said he didn't like okra but when he was here visiting us last week from India , I made this and he really liked it alot. If that is not a testimonial, I don't know what is.

My Mother-In-Law's Aloo Bhindi Posto (Potatoes and Okra with White Poppy Seeds)

1 lb. Okra
3 Small White Potatoes* chopped in half longways,then chopped into 1/4ths longways, then cut into small 1/2" pieces across.
Vegetable Oil
Posto-White Poppy Seeds
1 teaspoon Panch Phoron- a 5 spice mixture of whole black and yellow mustard seeds,fennel seeds,cumin seeds,and mehti seeds(fenugreek).
1 Dried Red Chili, broken in half
1 teaspoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Water

Wash okra thoroughly and cut off stems and pointed ends. Cut okra into 2 inch pieces.
Heat pan with oil just enough to coat the bottom on medium heat.
When hot, add panch phoron and broken dried red chili, cooking until spices start to sputter. Add okra and potatoes and stir occasionally until brown.
Once okra and potatoes are brown, add salt and sugar and stir well.Take your fingers and splash the one teaspoon of water onto the okra to create slight steam.turn to medium low, cover and cook until tender. When soft, add the posto to lightly coat all pods.cover and cook until posto is slightly tinged brown and it all sticks together.

*Note: If you are already serving a potato dish with your meal, you can omit the potatoes from this recipe.

I like to serve this with dal(lentils) and any Indian bread(If we don't have that, my husband uses tortillas). A small amount of Patak's Sweet Mango Chutney is outstanding to serve with this as well.

Both these recipes are great with fresh cucumbers and sliced red onions and make great accompaniments to any meal.