Okra is a versatile vegetable that can be prepared in a number of different ways. Many people are unfamiliar with its taste and miss out on the delicious recipes for the tall, annual herb.
Always select fresh and green young okra pods, because they tend to be the most tender and easiest to cook. Larger okra pods may be overmature and tough with brown seeds inside. A fresh okra pod will have white seeds hidden within it. Avoid buying okra that looks brown, shriveled, dry or decayed.
Those who avoid okra are most likely put off by the slimy, sticky juice concealed inside the pod. The pods can be cumbersome to chop but once mastered are easy to prepare.
Okra has traditionally been a staple of Southern cuisine, particularly in Louisiana, where gumbo is popular. Okra serves as a thickening agent and gives flavor to stews.
I grew up in India, and okra was a common vegetable enjoyed in many variations, including in curries, in dry okra masala or in stir-fried Western dishes. We always bought fresh okra from the street vendors rather than the frozen kind.
Many Indian grocery stores carry okra, as does the Milk Pail Market at the San Antonio Shopping Center in Mountain View.
Simple Fried Okra
1-1/2 cups fresh okra
2 tablespoons Bengal gram (chickpea) flour
Pinch asafetida (hing)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder, to taste (optional)
1 teaspoon dry coriander powder
1 teaspoon dry mango powder
Few drops water
Salt to taste
4 tablespoons olive or canola oil
Juice of 1/2 lime (optional)
Thoroughly wash okra pods. Dry with paper towels. Chop top of pod and slit in two lengthwise pieces from middle.
In large mixing bowl, add okra and sprinkle all spices except asafetida and salt. Add gram flour powder and a few teaspoons water so that spices and gram flour coat okra well. Season with salt just before frying or okra will release water and become soggy.
Heat cooking oil on medium flame in nonstick pan. Add asafetida and let sizzle for a few seconds. Add okra with all coated spices. Stir gently with thin spatula to avoid sticking.
Fry okra until crisp and still green. Drain on paper towels. Check taste for salt and adjust accordingly.
Garnish with lime juice and serve hot as snack or wrap in warm Indian Nan bread accompanied with crisp Indian salad of onions and cilantro.
Note: This dish tastes best when served immediately. Okra tends to get soggy if cooked ahead of time.
Gitika Baveja, a high-tech worker who cooks Indian cuisine, recently published "Indian Flavors to Savor." For more recipes, see Baveja's cookbook at www.flavorstosavor.com.