East Meets South
Archna’s Bhindi Masala
This is a classic, northern Indian dish served at Archna Becker’s family-run restaurant, Bhojanic, located in the Emory area of Decatur. This okra is rich with deep flavor and is pleasantly spicy. The color is a beautiful green coated with a transparent red from the spices. The okra maintains its texture while slices of caramelized onion provide a bit of sweetness that mingles very nicely with the slight heat from the peppers.
Serves 4 – 6
Note: The spices in this recipe can be found in most international food markets, including the Dekalb Farmer’s Market. It is best to buy these whole and grind them with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, but you can use pre-ground.
2 lbs. yellow onion
2 lbs. baby okra
1-2 tsp. of mango powder
2-3 green chilies (like serrano), seeded and diced finely
2 tsp. ground cumin*
4 tsp. ground coriander*
2 tsp. ground fennel*
3/4 tsp. ground turmeric
2-4 tsp. of salt to taste
1-2 tsp. of cayenne
Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
* coarse (not powder)
Cut the stem and the tip off of the okra pods and discard. If the okra is over 3 inches long, you may need to cut off a bit of the pod, near the stem end, that is thick and tough. Slice the okra crosswise, making quarter-inch slices that resemble little wheels. Slice the onions into long, thin slivers. Sauté onions over medium-low heat until caramelized (about 15 minutes) and all the excess water is evaporated. Add the okra, the diced chilies and the mango powder and sauté until the okra is a bright green color and most of the slime is gone. Add the rest of the dried spices and cook until incorporated. Garnish with cilantro.
Angie’s Southern Pan-Fried Okra
This is not the heavily breaded, deep-fried okra you may be used to. This technique produces a crispy-on-the-outside, almost caramelized shell that yields to a very tender interior that maintains the okra flavor. I learned this from my Tennessee grandmother, Pauline Bradley, who sprinkles a bit of sugar and also throws in one cut up green tomato. (In fact, you can use this same coating to make pan-fried green tomatoes). Sprinkled with salt after frying, this could almost be eaten like popcorn. In fact, it would make a brilliant bar snack.
Serves 4 – 6
2 lbs. small okra, (2-3 inches long), stem ends trimmed, sliced into 1/4 inch ‘wheels.’ (Very important: Do not wash the cut okra! You need the slime to make the breading stick.)
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. salt
6 hearty grinds of black pepper
1/2 tsp. sugar
Vegetable or peanut oil for frying
In a shallow pan or baking dish/tray, mix the cornmeal, flour, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper and sugar all together. Dump the cut up okra into the cornmeal mixture and toss with your hands ensuring that each little ‘wheel’ is coated on all sides. Next coat the bottom of a cast-iron skillet with oil (about 1/4-inch deep) and place over medium-high heat. The oil is hot enough when a couple drops of water flicked into the pan begin to spatter. Carefully pick up handfuls of the coated okra (shaking a bit to remove excess breading) and gently drop into the oil. Don’t crowd the pan! The okra should not mound up in the pan, it should be frying in a single layer with a bit of room around the pieces for even frying. Allow the okra to fry for about 3-5 minutes and then turn them gently to fry on the other side. Try to avoid stirring the bits or turning them too many times. Fry until medium-golden brown and, using a slotted spatula, place them on a tray lined with paper towels or a brown paper bag to soak up the excess grease. Again, put them in a single layer, avoiding a pile up that would make the bottom layer soggy. Salt to taste. Serve immediately.