Thursday, September 3, 2009

Okra Curry (Bhindi Curry)

You will remember that I have four pounds of okra from Saturday's CSA farm box. Today's recipe features okra in a curried yogurt sauce. The original recipe comes from Step by Step Indian Cooking by Sharda Gopal - a very interesting cookbook from the mid-1980s that features different Indian recipes than you might find nowadays in Indian cookbooks, which seem to be largely written for Westerners (or at least for Western kitchens). It is a pan-Indian collection, and is heavy on meat dishes, so if meat isn't your thing, you may want to just see if your local library has a copy rather than buying it for yourself.

Cut tips and tails off of 1/2 pound of okra and quickly fry in a little bit of oil. Set aside.

Make your curry sauce by combining chili powder, turmeric, cumin, and the flesh of 1/2 coconut in a blender. Here, I had to get creative. Now, I like to be challenged in a recipe, and I like to try new things. But I've not yet summoned the energy to mess with a coconut, and I wasn't about to at 7:00 pm on a weeknight. Instead, I tried reconstituting some unsweetened dried coconut in warm water for about 15 minutes.


This worked just fine for the purposes of making this sauce. The biggest problem with using a coconut substitute was that I had no idea how much coconut flesh is in 1/2 of a coconut, so I just guessed. It wound up making a lot more sauce than was absolutely necessary, but where's the sin in that. (Here is your word of the day: coconut flesh is technically called endosperm.) Combine these spices with 1 c yogurt.

Heat oil in a skillet and add mustard seeds and 1 red chili pepper. Whenever I cook with mustard seeds, I like to make sure the lid is cocked on my skillet until all the seeds have popped -- it allows for steam to escape, but keeps the mess in the kitchen to a minimum since those seeds want to pop out of the pan and all over the place.

If you've never used mustard seeds before, it's quite easy to cook with them. In many ways, it's like cooking popcorn -- heat your oil and add the seed to the hot oil. As with popcorn, you're going to want a lid at least partially covering your pot. Also, as with popcorn, it will be obvious when the popping begins, and when it slows and eventually ends. Unlike popcorn, the whole process (once the oil is hot) will only take 30 seconds or so.

Once the seeds have popped, add your okra. With the okra added to the pan, now add your yogurt sauce. Lower the heat and cook gently, stirring to keep the sauce from separating.

I added cilantro and curry leaves for a finish.

And, served over rice.

Several years ago, I was traveling through parts of India (by far the most delicious country I've traveled through). This dish reminded me of the aloo subzi I frequently had for breakfast when I was there - a curried potato stew served with morning puri bread and strong English tea. It's a far cry from our sugar-heavy breakfasts, but a delicious and filling way to start the day.

Farm box ingredients used: okra, red chili pepper

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