From Indian Home Cooking
by Suvir Saran
and Stephanie Lyness
(Clarkson Potter; 2004)
Adapted by StarChefs.com
Yield: 4 Servings
I love this, and so, it seems, does everyone else who has tried
it. It isn’t a traditional dish, but something Panditji
(our families Brahman chef) and I came up with when I was a young
boy, maybe 10 or so years old. The recipe that we came up with
had the okra slit in half lengthwise. It was then dusted with
chickpea flour, lemon, spices and allowed to marinade for 20 minutes
or so and then deep fried. Since coming to the U.S., becoming
a cook in my own right and catering and cooking in restaurant
kitchens, I have streamlined the recipe further. The recipe has
become more addictive, cleaner and actually taken a turn towards
the simpler. The recipe was easy to begin with, but now, it is
truly a celebration of less is more. With few ingredients, you
can turn out a dish, that can be a teaser by itself, of courses
to follow, a side dish to grilled fish, poultry or meat, or a
replacement to French Fries, as most of our customers, who have
tried this, proclaim, minutes after their first bite.
Okra is also called Lady Finger in India and other countries.
Okra is considered best when it is the size of the ring finger
of a lady with small hands. At that size Okra is not too fibrous,
tough or hairy. It is also easier to stem and slice.
While I am not disturbed by the sliminess of Okra, many are nervous
about trying Okra for that reason alone. In this recipe, the Okra
bashers can find a way of giving Okra another chance. Perhaps
this recipe can be trademarked as being the one where Okra loses
its own slimy trademark. The key here is in the way we cut it.
The traditional Indian way of cutting it crosswise has been bypassed
and a fine julienne or lengthwise cut Okra is selected, not part
of the first recipe I came up with years ago.
I like to serve it alongside of thinly sliced red onions and julienned
tomatoes. They add nice textural and flavor contrasts without
taking away from the brilliance of Okra.
Chaat Masala, the spice blend used to dust the quickly fried Okra,
is a masala (blend of spices) that is used most often in the street
food style dishes that come from the subcontinent. The word chaat
literally translates from Hindi as to lick. And that is exactly
what happens when Indians hear the word chaat. Their mouth begins
to water in anticipation of all those sweet and sour, spicy and
cool dishes that are part of the genre of Chaat, a very popular
group of dishes. For hundreds of millions of Indians, Chaat is
their daily dose of reasonable but necessary self-indulgence.
Necessary, for India has many regions that have tropical weather
conditions for most of the year, and in other parts, the summer
is long and hot. Chaat dishes have a way of quickly inducing sweat
and that in turn makes you cool as the heat laden breezes of hot
India blow by. Thus, Chaat has its passionate fans even in the
hottest of climates. Chaat Masala is a blend of mostly sour and
some pungent spices. It is available in all Indian groceries and
also online. One can make it at home as well, but the quality
of the packaged blend makes it unnecessary.
I first shared this recipe with Hemant Mathur when we catered
a party 7 years ago in Manhattan. We prepared this dish in the
same way I had made it first in India as a young boy, with the
okra slit in half. Since we were cooking for hundreds that night,
this seemed laborious. But the crowds of people that ate it that
night, wanted a recipe for it, that very minute. It created a
stir. The cooks that helped us prepare it, have now become chefs
at other establishments and are cooking this Okra. It has remained
the same dish I remember from India. But Hemant and I have begun
cooking it differently at Dévi and have moved on from that
first version. We have simplified it further and still kept the
integrity of Okra. Less is more, they say, and it certainly feels
that way when cooking Okra this way.
- Canola oil, for frying
- 1 pound okra, stemmed and julienned lengthwise
- 1/2 of a small red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 small or 1 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded and julienned
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon, or more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chaat masala, or more to taste
Heat at least 2 inches oil to 350°F (you can check this with
a deep-fry or instant-read thermometer) in a countertop deep fryer
or in a pan on the stove.
Fry the julienned okra in batches small enough not to crowd your
pan or fryer and make sure to let the oil return to temperature
between batches. Fry it until crisp, about 5 to 7 minutes –
the seeds will swell and it will be deeply colored at the edges
– then transfer to drain on paper towels.
Toss the okra together with the onion, tomato and cilantro, squeeze
the lemon juice over all, and season to taste with salt and chaat