EOWTTA*: O is for Okra

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

(*EOWTTA=Eating Our Way Through The Alphabet)



Sounds like a surprising pick but I absolutely LOVE okra. How do I love it? Let me count some of the ways:

Okra is fantastic
  •  in fish curry
  •  in Yong tau foo (where the okra is stuffed with fish paste then gently simmered in stock. Doesn’t sound so appetising I grant you, but absolutely delicious)
  • stir-fried with chilli and garlic or with a spicy belacan mix
  • in an Indian dish called Sukhi bindhi
  • as tempura.
But that’s not all. Okra is such a versatile vegetable, it can be used for craft as well. Remember potato prints? In Malaysia, we used to make okra prints too. How cool is this vege’s cross section? In fact, the whole plant is quite pretty. Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) bears flowers that look similar to a hibiscus, unsurprising really, because the plants are related.




After the flowers have been pollinated, along come the okra pods which are long and tapered at the end. Their shape may be why okra is also sometimes known as “ladies fingers”. In Malaysia, okra is referred to as “Kacang Bendi” (Kacang=legume, Bendi=Okra).




So, what’s not to like?

Ah yes, well, that little question of slime. Technically, the okra slime is known as mucilage, which doesn’t add more appetite appeal does it? On the plus side, this mucilage contains useful soluble fibre.

According to many kitchen anecdotes I’d found across the interweb, this “sliminess” factor can be reduced by stir-frying the cut slices, making sure enough oil is used. Leaving the pods whole could also work.

I’m not really bothered by the gooeyness, in fact that’s exactly why I like okra, for the contrasts in consistency. It’s a merry-go-round of textures in every mouthful, from the slightly firm exterior, to the soft yielding flesh, then onto the little crunchy seeds.

The only downside to okra is that it is a tropical plant, which means my supply is limited to the warmer months.


courtesy of MC Senior 


When buying okra, make sure to choose young, firm, green pods. Older pods will be tough and “woody”. (Stop sniggering, you at the back!)

Hopefully I’ve managed to convince a few non-okra eaters to join the cause. Maybe you could try cooking it the following way:







Okra with chilli, garlic and shrimp paste
(this is a lazy way of making the “belacan”(shrimp paste) style okra, very limited use of mortar and pestle involved)

Serves 2 as a side dish

Handful okra pods (about 15)  - trimmed and sliced on the diagonal.
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon belacan (toasted and ground finely) – can be omitted if shrimp paste is not your thing
about 2 teaspoons dried shrimp – I usually give it a wash to remove impurities, then dry it with paper towels. Dice very finely.
3 or 4 scuds (small chillies) – adjust to suit heat tolerance
Vegetable oil for frying

Assemble all the ingredients and have it ready to go. Heat a wok on high heat, add the oil and let it get hot (not smoking though). Fry the diced shrimp and garlic quickly until the shrimp starts to crisp, be careful not to let the garlic brown. Add the chillies and stir-fry quickly. Make sure area is well ventilated because the chillies can make everyone within wok-radius start coughing and sneezing (had to send the kids outside at this point ☺) . Add the okra and toss and stir, then add the shrimp paste if using. Keep stir-frying until the okra is tender. If the mix in the wok starts to look too dry, and a teeny, tiny bit of water (about a teaspoon will suffice). When okra is tender (it should still be bright green), take off the heat (be careful not to overcook). Goes well with steamed rice.

I don’t add salt because the shrimp and shrimp paste is salty enough, but if you aren’t using either, don’t forget to season well.



Some related okra links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okra
http://www2.dpi.qld.gov.au/horticulture/5197.html
http://southernfood.about.com/library/weekly/aa081401a.htm

11 comments:

yours deliciously said...

Thanks for bringing back sweet memories of crafts and the okra. Love having the okra with chilies.

pat Berry said...

Yum; not too many things better for a summer supper than fried okra, fresh tomatoes and corn...unless it is stewed okra and tomatoes or gumbo with lots of okra or boiled tender okra pods or pickled okra or....well, I'm a fan,too!

The Cooking Photographer said...

Lol omgosh Shaz!! I love your mustard and ketchup okra print. :)

You are so awesome. I wonder if I can get okra here this time of year. That looks awesome!

Laura

Julia @Mélanger said...

I have hardly eaten okra, but it seems so versatile!

shaz said...

Hi "yours deliciously" - thanks for stopping by. Okra and chillies are such a great combo.

Hi Pat - I am so keen to try all of those delicious sounding Southern dishes. Pickled okra is really tickling my fancy!

Hi Laura aka The Cooking Photographer - wish I'd thought of mustard and ketchup, that's actually just paint. Does it still count as awesome?:)


Hi Julia - you'd probably get lots moe okra up there in Brissy wouldn't you?

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I'm divided about okra, something I find it too slimy when it has lots of sauce but this look nice and unslimy (for lack of a better word!) :D

Trissa said...

Ahh! I've never enjoyed Okra but my Mum LOVES it! I'm going to have to give this recipe a second chance and ask my Mum to make it for me.

Hungry Dog said...

I like okra too! Maybe not as much as you do...but I do like it! ;) Remember I have a southern husband--we are not strangers to fried okra. This is a good idea for something different.

Vanille said...

This ode to okra make me want to try it then !
Of course, I like the fun of making okra print !!

3 hungry tummies said...

Can't imagine fish curry without okra!

shaz said...

True Lorraine, okra is a pretty divisive vege, the kids refuse to touch it but luckily Mr. Kitchen Hand likes it.

Cool, hope your mum likes it :)

Mmmm, fried okra sounds so good Hungry Dog.

Hi Vanille, the printing is very fun, it's the closest the kids will get to okra!

Yes, so true 3 Hungry Tummies - I'm craving fish curry right now.