When I see a ton of fresh okra on sale I buy it. You might look at this vegetable and think what’s the big deal? You might even taste it and not be impressed. Maybe you won’t like the slimy quality of it that perfectly thickens gumbo and is oh-so-good for you because of its high Vitamin K content and blood sugar-lowering capabilities.
But I like the sliminess, and I like it best when it’s stir-fried, so there’s a little crunch, a lot of texture from all those geometric sides, and the taste of whatever you use to season – usually a combination of something salty and something spicy. Throw in something sour and you’ll be in heaven.
Which is exactly what I did.
1 lb fresh okra (go for the bright greens ones. There shouldn’t be a lot of brown lines or spots on the okra. Check Asian and South Asian grocery stores for the best quality)
1 tbsp olive oil (the original recipe calls for 1/4 cup and the okra just sucks it up, like eggplant dishes do at an Indian restaurant. You don’t end up tasting the oil but it helps it cook without burning. The way to do this without so much oil is to vigilantly add water a tablespoon at a time to keep the okra from sticking. Your stomach and hips will thank you, but your patience may not)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds (whole seeds, not ground)
3/4 cup shallots (about 5 medium – more or less is fine), cut in half lengthwise and then sliced into half ring slivers
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander (grind it fresh if you can)
1/4 tsp crushed red chili pepper flakes (or crush some dried chili peppers. Be careful about how hot they are. Only you can know how much heat you want, or in the words of an old commercial that used to play all the time: “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Too true. Too true.)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon juice
Rinse the okra before chopping them or you’ll end up with a sticky mess trying to rinse them afterward.
This should be quick, so chop fast: Cut off the top and bottom tips of the okra (do a few at a time) and then cut the okra on a diagonal into 3 or slices (the same angle you would use to cut carrots for an Asian stir-fry dish – or how you see carrots cut in commercial Asian stir-fries…).
Chop the shallots and measure out the spices. Then heat the oil on medium-high heat (use from 1 tbsp to 1/4 cup. However much you want to use and how energetic you are to stir constantly and add water regularly).
When the oil is hot add the cumin seeds. Stir, then add the okra. Stir and fry, adding water as necessary, for 5 minutes. the okra should brown a little, but not much if you use less oil. Add the shallots and stir-fry another 5 minutes, adding more water little by little.
Reduce the heat to low and add the coriander, red chili pepper and salt. Cook for another 8-10 minutes, making sure the spices don’t burn but the shallots soften. Chewy shallots are no fun. You’ll wish you used more oil, and that’s no fun either.
When you’re happy with the texture of the shallots and the okra is tender-crisp (taste one), add the lemon juice. Stir and serve. It’s amazing with naan or just with rice, but is even better with one of these things plus some bitter melon for a full meal of slimy, spiky, salty, sour delicious Indian food.