Friday, September 2, 2011

Something to enliven

Okra curry
I've been busy with painting, oh so much painting--like eight to ten hours every day the past two weeks clearing baseboards and crown moulding (of general grime, sawdust, plaster, and cat hair), stripping and re-finishing hardware, taping, patching, priming, and, of course, actual painting. Getting this new apartment ready has been a lot of work--way more than I'd imagined it would be--and there's still a few more days' worth to be done. Luckily, I've had the help of my boyfriend and a couple of very kind and dedicated friends. We've been working steadily through the days, keeping one another sane and motivated. Without them, I'm sure that by now I'd be lying somewhere in a pool of paint, exhausted, paint-spattered, and delirious.
Painted hardware
Though we've been really busy, we've still had to eat. There has been no time for trips to the farmers' market or elaborate meals. Early every morning, I've been preparing a little lunch for the four of us--something simple and hearty, something to nourish and enliven us after a few hours of work. Over the past week, I've made this mujadara a couple of times, this lentil salad, this split-pea dal, a few loaves of Tartine sourdough, a black-bean chili, and best of all, maybe, Tahera Rawji's okra curry.
I'm not sure what it is about okra, but I'm always excited to try more however it's served. Maybe it has something to do with how weird a vegetable okra is (at least to me, not being from the American South)--so ridged and pointy, so slimy on the inside, so distinctively vegetal tasting---I guess I'm just curious about what people do with it, about how they make it welcome at their tables.
Hardware re-finished
My favourite preparation for a while now has been this okra curry. It's warmly spiced, rich, and comforting. You start by browning the okra--this seals it up so that it doesn't make the curry slimy. Then, you make the lush base in which the okra stews--onions sautéed to a golden hue, chopped tomatoes, garlic, ginger, and a punchy dose of spices. It all comes together pretty quickly. Add the okra back in, and within a few minutes, you've got yourself a tangy and wonderfully aromatic curry. That's how I've been making okra welcome at my table lately.

Okra Curry
Adapted from Tahera Rawji's Simply Indian
Note: I like to make my own curry powder. That way, I know that my curries will be punchy and flavourful. It's simple--toast whole spices like cumin, coriander seed, fenugreek, clove, and mustard seed along with a few dried chilis in a dry skillet, grind them to a fine powder, and then blend with a bit of cinnamon and turmeric. Garam masala is another spice blend that you can make at home. Typically, it includes the sorts of spice that complement sweet things--like nutmeg, cardamom, and star anise--along with a bit of black pepper (I've included one of Rawji's blends below). About the yogurt--it makes the curry a little creamier and adds a bit of tanginess, but if I don't happen to have any yogurt lying around, I don't worry about it.
1 lb okra
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 medium onions, sliced
1 large tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
2 tablespoons yogurt (optional)
Wash the okra and thoroughly pat dry. Trim at both ends and cut into half-inch lengths.
In a wide skillet, warm the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the okra and, stirring occasionally, fry until golden brown. The frying seals the okra. Remove from the oil and set aside.
In the same skillet, sauté the onions over medium-high heat until golden. Then, add the tomatoes, garlic, ginger, cayenne, curry powder, and turmeric. Continue cooking over medium heat for about five minutes, allowing the tomatoes to break down and the flavours to come together. Add the okra and stew for another five minutes. If the pan starts to get too dry at any point, add a splash of water. Then, add the yogurt, if using. Just before serving, stir in the garam masala.

Garam Masala
Adapted from Tahera Rawji's Simply Indian
1/2 cup cardamom pods
3 whole nutmeg
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
6 whole star anise
4 cinnamon sticks
Toast the spices in a dry skillet until fragrant. Grind to a fine powder and seal in an air-tight container. It should keep for about a year.

About the door hardware: one of the great things about the new apartment is that it came with all its original solid brass door knobs, plates, and rosettes--gorgeous old Victorian(ish) things. What was not so great was that they were carelessly painted over and painted over in hideous colours (peach, blue, something that was once white). I was determined to save the hardware. There are a number of methods out there, but since there might have been a layer of lead paint on everything of mine, I decided on the method described here on An Urban Cottage. Basically, you get your hands on some sodium carbonate (Arm & Hammer sells it as "Super Washing Soda," found in the laundry aisle) and a bucket you don't mind discarding later. Then, you boil enough water to cover your ailing hardware and dump it in the bucket, and for every quart of water you boil, you add about a quarter cup of sodium carbonate to the mix. Soak the hardware in it for at least 24 hours, and the paint will peel right off, usually in one neat piece. Magic! Or maybe just chemistry. Then, just scrub off any remaining paint with an old toothbrush and give your hardware a new coat of paint, preferably something rust resistant. I used Rustoleum spray paint--the satin nickel in their metallic line. This was really, really easy--no simmering in a crock pot, no chemical paint stripper--just good old sodium carbonate, which, by the way, is the same alkali key to making excellent ramen noodles, (but please don't use Super Washing Soda in your ramen dough--it's probably not food grade). Hopefully, I'll be able to say more on that the new kitchen.


  1. Can you use frozen okra? I don't think I'll be able to find any fresh okra here in Ohio around this time of year, and this recipe looks so good!

    1. I've never tried it with frozen okra, but I don't see why it wouldn't work. My instinct would be to fry it straight from the bag without thawing it and to just give it a few extra minutes to cook through. I suspect that the okra would be overly wet and a pain to pat dry if you let it thaw first.

      If you do try the curry with frozen okra, I'd like to hear how it turns out!