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Indian Spotlight  2005

DÉVI
8 East 18th Street
New York City
(212) 691-1300

 

Crispy Fried Okra
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.


Ingredients:

  • 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

Method:
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 masala.


  • Indian Cuisine
  • Forum: Where's the best Indian Food in New York?

  •    Published: September 2005
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