I grew up eating Indian food for nearly every meal while I lived under my parent's roof. As I've told you before, this did not please my burgeoning tastebuds. I only craved what I could not have, i.e. processed junk. I did not learn to appreciate Indian food's complexities and layers of flavor until I went away to college and could finally have all the processed junk I had been denied thus far. Needless to say, I quickly tired of how bland and uninspiring this food can be. Whenever I visited home during semester breaks, I pestered my mother to share her recipes. My mother is an excellent cook, but she does not rely on recipes. It's all off the top of her head. Indian food lends itself very well to this, because it has the same basic formula which can be altered depending on what is on hand. One unfortunate by-product of cooking without recipes is that consistency is lost; that is, subtle differences exist between two supposedly identical dishes. When pressed, my mother frequently will say "oh, you know, just a bit of tumeric" or "I just eyeball it" (when referring to exact quantities of a certain spice). It's quite frustrating to have this fantastic resource, a bona fide arsenal of Indian recipes, yet be unable to access it! So, I've turned to the internet for finding exact measurements and recipes for Indian food. And I struck gold with Madhur Jaffrey's Sweet and Sour Okra. Fresh lemon juice makes it tangy and a combination of whole cumin and ground cumin give it a classic spicy/smoky flavor. The proportions of spices are perfect, so much that I've altered here and there, with the addition of tomatoes and once, the addition of potatoes, and every single time, it's been a showstopper.
Madhur Jaffrey's Sweet and Sour Okra
1 1/2 lbs fresh okra, defrosted or 2 (10 ounce) packages frozen okra, defrosted
2 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
7 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 cup peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
1 teaspoon sugar
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1) If fresh okra is used, trim off any tough stems.
2) If frozen okra is used, defrost and drain.
3) Cut each pod into 3/4 inch lengths.
4) Put the garlic, pepper flakes and three tablespoons of water in the blender and blend as thoroughly as possible.
5) Empty the mixture into a small bowl and add the ground cumin, coriander and turmeric and blend well.
6) Heat the oil over medium high heat in a nine inch skillet and add the whole cumin seeds.
7) Cook briefly until the seeds start to sizzle and add the spice paste.
8) Cook, stirring, about one minute.
9) Add the okra, salt, sugar and lemon juice and the remaining four tablespoons of water.
10)Stir to blend.
11)Bring to a simmer, cover closely and cook over very low heat about ten minutes.
12)Serve with basmati rice or naan.