Celebrating the Start of Okra Season with Vendakka Palu

It’s okra season!  I’m excited, unlike a lot of people in our particular CSA.  Once okra season hits, we are bombarded with the stuff and I know that many members of our CSA don’t list okra as one of their favorite veggies.  Prior to signing up for the CSA last summer, I had never cooked the stuff myself.  But over the months of getting a huge bag of it every two weeks, I learned to cook it. This year I eagerly looked forward to our first batch of okra.  Finally, it’s here and I get to break out the recipes I’ve been waiting to use.

If you ask most people what they do with okra, they’d shrug and say “I don’t know.  Deep fry it?”  I’m sure it’s delicious that way, but I wouldn’t know.  You see, I grew up in the deepest of the Deep South.  Fried okra was served almost every day in our elementary school cafeteria line.  My third grade teacher, Mrs. Smith, used to send someone to go get her an afternoon snack of a heaping portion of cold fried okra.  Then she would sit there and eat it as we sat at her feet and she read us chapters of our story book.  Being the diligent student that I was, I always sat up front and would frequently receive the cast off from her simultaneous reading and fried okra eating.  After a year of that, I was turned off to fried okra pretty much permanently.  So I have to find new uses for the slimy veg, and my new uses are substantially healthier than anything that has spent time in a deep fryer.

Today’s selection was vendakka palu, or okra tomato curry.  This was actually my first attempt to make Indian food of any kind.  I’ve always been intimidated by Indian food because the list of ingredients is often longer than the NASA shuttle launch sequence instructions.  But I looked at this recipe and realized that almost all the ingredients were spices which I already had in my cupboard, and the ingredients that weren’t spices showed up in my CSA box.  It turned out to be an incredibly easy dish that was ready in about 20 minutes.  It was great served along side rice and some homemade naan, and in total the meal was completely vegan and very friendly to the short-shorts diet.  Take my advice – don’t be intimidated by Indian food.  This is a quick, very flavorful one-pot dish that will be ready by the time the rice is finished!

2 T olive oil or other mild oil

1 bell pepper, medium dice

2 jalapenos, seeded and diced

1 T minced fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 bay leaves

1 t corriander

1/2 t crushed red pepper

1/4 t tumeric

1/4 t cumin

1/4 t cinnamon

salt and pepper

1 tomato, diced

1/4 c raisins

1 1/2 c sliced okra

1 c lite coconut milk

Heat oil in a large skillet or dutch oven.  Add bell pepper, jalapeno, ginger, garlic, and bay leaves.  Cook until the peppers are soft, 2-3 minutes.  Add all the spices, tomato, raisins, and okra.  Stir to coat all the veggies with the spice mixture.  Cook about 2 minutes or until the fragrance of the spices makes your kitchen smell yummy.  Add the coconut milk, cover, and let simmer for about 8-10 minutes or until the okra is soft.  Add a splash of water if the mixture seems too thick.  Remove the bay leaves before serving.

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