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OKRA! Oh, how you have been taunting me the past couple weeks - looking all nice and pretty at the market week after week. Red AND green. But what to do with okra!? I've heard horror stories about it's gooey-ness and being sticky all over the place. It definitely doesn't have a strong hold in my cooking repertoire, but mostly because I couldn't ever get serious inspiration from the fruit. But it's definitely a pod I will be experimenting with more! Naturally, I had to do a little okra research. Okra, of all things, is of the mallow family and is related to cotton, cocoa, and hibiscus. The flowering okra plant does bear similarities to the hibiscus plant if you compare the two! The cotton and cocoa I'll have to look into a bit more, but I'll leave that for later. We all know the common Southern use of okra in gumbo and to thicken soups and stews, but it's also used widely in Asian, Indian, Caribbean and African cuisines. I wanted to do a little something different - fortunately, I had a random light bulb moment, and recalled an okra side dish a family friend had made for me some time back, and I knew I had to recreate it!
Spiced Okra with Chickpeas and Tamarind
3/4 lb okra, washed and dried
4 T vegetable oil
1 t whole black mustard seeds
6 fresh, or 10 dried curry leaves
8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 t ground cumin
2 t ground coriander
1/2 t ground turmeric
Pinch of cayenne, or more to taste
1 C cooked chickpeas
Salt, to taste
2 T tamarind paste
Once the okra is washed and dry, trim off the stem and slice crosswise into 1/2 in pieces. Note: stickiness was not an issue! Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat in a saute pan with a lid. When the oil is shimmering, add in the curry leaves and mustard seeds. Be careful here - the mustard seeds can act like Mexican jumping beans!
After about 20 seconds, add in the minced garlic and saute until golden. Finally, add the sliced okra and ground spices and stir to combine. Saute for about a minute, distributing the spices, and finally pour 1 cup of water into the pan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes. Finally, stir in the chickpeas, salt, and tamarind paste. Cook for another five minutes, covered, or until the chickpeas are just heated through. Done! (PS: remove the curry leaves!)
This dish really is delicious, and could be a definite full meal for a vegetarian, or any old meatless Monday! The chickpeas really help to round out the dish and make it heartier. The flavors in this dish are really wonderful - a bit acidic and sweet from the tamarind paste, with a really deep warmth from the coriander, cumin, and cayenne. The pinch of cayenne really added the perfect amount of spice to this dish as well - it wasn't overpowering at all, but left a nice lingering heat on your tongue! Absolutely lovely. And so absolutely simple as well! Okra, welcome to the club - you are officially part of my culinary arsenal now!