Sticky, slimy, gooey, gummy – okra.
Our CSA farms like to push our boundaries and challenge our culinary repertoires with odd and unexpected vegetables, but I don’t think Eatwell ever dared to put okra, one of Northern America’s most reviled and misunderstood vegetables, in my box. But even though I never get it in my box, I get so excited every year when I finally spot okra at the farmer’s market. I don’t pretend to have mastered this challenging vegetable, one that seems to explode into snot-strings if you so much as look at it funny, but I do have one recipe that’s so delicious it keeps me dreaming of okra all year-round.
I’ve heard various techniques for dealing with okra’s challenges, from “never get it wet” to “never cut it – only cook it whole” to “just embrace the sliminess, haven’t you heard of gumbo?” But this magical recipe, straight from my beloved 5 Spices, 50 Dishes, breaks the first two rules and still in no way requires an enthusiasm for slime.
Relying firmly on the “everything tastes good fried” rule of cooking, this recipe for okra raita combines crisp, delicious rounds of pan-fried okra with smoky mustard seeds. The tadka, or spice mixture, is placed raw on top of the yogurt, and the delicate spices get cooked perfectly when you pour the hot oil from the mustard seeds right onto the yogurt. The okra is beautiful, making a flower-like shape when cut crosswise, and the colors of the cooked vegetable range from green to orange to brown.
I really debated whether or not to post this recipe, as I have already posted a few from this cookbook and I try to limit the recipes I post to “just a taste” from a given book. But I want folks to try okra, to not be intimidated by this delicious vegetable, so I am going to share this one. And I fervently hope that you will try this dish and be so blown away that you will run out immediately and buy 5 Spices, 50 Dishes, a terrific, solidly-written, Indian-made-simple (but fabulous) cookbook from which I have made nearly every vegetarian dish and whose recipes form a solid portion of our regular cooking repertoire.
Crispy Okra Raita (from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate)
8 oz. fresh or frozen okra
6 T. canola oil, divided
1 cup plain whole or LF yogurt
3/4 to 1 t. salt
1/2 t. sugar
1/8 t. cayenne
1/8 t. turmeric
1 t. mustard seeds (I increased this from the 1/2 t. of the original recipe because the mustard seeds are the best part!)
Wash the okra and towel-dry each one thoroughly. Slice into 1/4 inch thick rounds. If using frozen, do not thaw.
Heat 5 T. of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is very hot, add the okra, toss, and let sizzle. Toss occasionally. The okra will slowly turn crisp and brown. (The frozen okra may not get crisp; this is okay, but make sure to brown it well.) Once all the okra is well browned, remove to a paper towel-lined platter and set aside until ready to serve.
Make the tadka: Whisk the yogurt with the salt (to taste) and sugar. Place the cayenne and turmeric in a small pile on the yogurt, but do not mix in yet. Heat the remaining 1 T. oil in a butter warmer or small skillet over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the mustard seeds, covering the pan with a lid or splatter screen. After the mustard seeds stop sputtering (note: mine don’t sputter that much – so keep an eye on em to make sure they don’t burn!) pour the hot oil directly on top of the cayenne and turmeric powder. (This cooks the powdered spices without burning them.) Do not stir the dressing in yet.
For presentation just prior to serving, place the crisp okra on top of the dressing. Stir the okra and dressing into the yogurt while serving.