Vendakkai Kari (Pan-fried Okra)

I’ve always had a thing for cooking/buying local, in-season produce. I don’t understand people who live in India and pay Rs.200 for an avocado, or people living abroad hunting for imported Indian mangoes. Sure, once in a while is fine. But regularly, we should all try to eat local produce. They’re fresher, cheaper and definitely much healthier.

Hence, I frequent farmer’s markets. After our recent move, it took me one day to locate the time and place of the local market. It was quite easy given that the area of the island is just 75sqmi. But the local market here is so different from those I’ve been to before, the produce so different. Summer in NY means, best of fruits – peaches and apricots and berries. Here it’s mangoes. So many varieties of local mangoes. And star fruit and guavas and coconut. It’s quite a revelation. As far as veggies go, right now, okra and plantains are in season. I buy them every week and try out new ways to fix them.

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Today, I will give here my Okra recipe. I never buy frozen okra, because my favorite way to make it crispy, pan-fried, and okra and moisture don’t go well. Look how gorgeous this farmer’s market haul is! And I’ve never seen red okra before! I’ve always loved okra, and not because my mom told me that eating okra makes you a genius at Math. Now my kids love it too. It’s their favorite vegetable of all time. Here’s how I make it (and how my mom made it).

Pan-fried Okra (Vendakkai kari in Tamil)

Ingredients

Okra – 1/2 kg (about 1 pound)
Oil for tempering
Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida – a pinch
Curry leaves – few
Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Red chili powder – 1tsp (You can change this based on your spice level, but I keep it here otherwise you can’t really taste the okra, or anything else)
Salt – to taste

Method

1. Wash the okra well. Wipe it well with a fresh tea towel. Let it sit in a colander for 10-15 min to air dry. You don’t want any water on the okra. Dry it again with a paper towel if you must. No water!

2. Slice it with a sharp knife, taking care not to bruise it too much. And don’t slice it carpaccio-thin, thinking it would be crisper. Slice it thusly.

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3. Use a wide pan. Don’t use your vANali/wok here. You need a pan wide enough to fit the okra without crowding it in a pile. You don’t want it to steam.

4. Heat oil (medium high heat). Temper mustard seeds, urad dal, asafoetida and curry leaves. Once the mustard seeds have spluttered and the dal is brown, add turmeric powder and chili powder. Don’t burn them, but let it mix with the oil well.

5. Add the chopped okra. Mix with the seasoned oil well and spread it out evenly in the pan so it’s not all crowded. Let it sit here and cook for a bit.

6. Resist the temptation to stir the okra too much. The more you stir, the more gooey the okra becomes. Also, notice we haven’t added salt yet. And we won’t till the very end. This is because salt is hydrophilic, and will draw moisture out of the food. We don’t want more moisture in there. Keep the heat at medium-high as well.

7. Stir the okra once every five minutes. so it cooks evenly on all sides. In about 15 min, you will notice, while stirring, the okra is no longer gooey and has turned color slightly. At this point, add salt to taste, stir well, and cook for another 5-7 minutes, till the okra is at desired level of crispness.

8. Take off heat and serve with rice/roti or just eat it off the pan. I’ve done all 3.

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