No one should be bored by what they eat. If the contents of your kitchen aren’t proof of that, then the internet is—we live in an age of information, where on the web you can find a recipe for practically anything and where the intricacies of food cultures are available to everyone, in books, on TV, and of course through bloggers. We all know now what tapas are, how to crack a coconut, and that sushi isn’t just a California roll. We ain’t in the 50’s anymore, and there’s no excuse to be bored by dinner.
It’s good to set goals. Try and eat something new once a week, or have something that you’d never before imagined cooking—or eating—once a month. Learn about all those weird seasonal vegetables that spring up now and then and figure out what to do with them. Or, you could take a dish you’ve had before and cook it in the tradition of another culture.
I’ve had okra before, but mainly in Creole gumbos (a delicious one of which I had this past weekend, made by Jim’s wonderful aunt Maria) or Cajun stews. Okra acts as a thickening agent in these dishes because of that sticky, gunky, oozing stuff inside of it (I looked for the technical term in the Oxford Food Dictionary, but they just called it a “sticky substance”) but since okra is one of my favorite components of these dishes, I wondered if it would be good on it’s own. Searching through my recipe books and on the internet, I learned that okra is a traditional Indian side dish—stir-fried in a wok with onions, chilies, and Indian spices. Since Jim and I make red-lentil dal at least once a week (using the leftovers as lunches), this technique sounded perfect.
The resulting okra was indeed sticky (or gummy or slimy–we couldn’t agree on a adjective), but coupled with the caramelized onions and chilies, and the earthy tones of the coriander and cumin, it was beautiful—complex and tasty. Not totally sold on the stickiness, we mixed the okra into our dal and were impressed by the depth that it contributed. I’m sure it would go wonderfully with black beans, though I urge you to make the okra separately, using this simple recipe, and then to mix it into your beans, or dal, or whatever at the table, because the caramelization of the dish is not to be missed. Maybe it will even transport you to new worlds!
(Though if it doesn’t, you could at least click on this video link for a laugh!)
serves 3-4//adapted from Curried Flavors, Maya Kaimal MacMillian3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 green chili (serrano, Thai, jalapeno), split lengthwise and chopped (leave in seeds if you want added heat)
1 pound fresh okra, trimmed and cut into 1/8-inch slices
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon red pepper (cayenne or dried red pepper flakes)
1 teaspoon salt
Over medium-high heat, fry oil with onion and chili until soft.
Turn up heat to high. Add okra and fry, stirring, for two minutes. Add spice mixture and continue stir-frying until okra browns around the edges (15-20 minutes.) When browned, add salt.