Gentle Readers, The Practical Cook embraces cooking traditions from around the world, though her Southern roots are often showing. I first encountered Indian food in college, when I was a vegetarian, and it was love at first bite. I took a few swings at cooking it, from the standard chana masala to the more adventurous samosas and naan. But I never had the keys to the kingdom.
Enter Raghavan Iyer, the brilliant mastermind and excellent teacher behind 660 Curries. Full disclosure, I worked for the publisher on this book, but I also read it and took Raghavan’s class when I had the opportunity. I can now say, with confidence, that I can cook Indian food. I’m not at the same level of competence that I’m at with my scratch-made chicken and dumplings (training since I was a tween on that one), but it tastes like Indian food, recognizably so, and I have favorite recipes.
Chief among my favorites, anything involving the word “Kadhi.” The creamy yellow sauce is a siren song for me. Sweet yet tart, and redolent with curry leaves, to which I have an unhealthy addiction. If you’ve been on the fence for a while, leap over, get this cookbook, and start cooking Indian at home today.
Buttermilk Okra, Indian Style (aka Bhindi Kadhi)
Adapted from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. Toned down in terms of heat for The Practical Cooks Junior, and served with plain yogurt at the table to further mute as needed. There are a couple of things here that will require a trip to the Indian grocery store. Worth the trip. For building your spice war chest, I recommend Whole Foods bulk bins. It’s the best deal in the store: you can get small amounts (just remember to write the spice name on the label, and not just the PLU#).
1 to 1 1/2 pounds fresh okra (small, not the horsey pods), rinsed, dried, capped, and sliced into 1-inch lengths
1 quart buttermilk
2 tablespoons chickpea flour (or if you have a freezer #fail, you can sub cornstarch, but try the chickpea flour first)
2 heaping teaspoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
up to 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (if your pepper is fresh, and you go full bore, it will have bite)
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 to 3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
12 to 15 medium to large size fresh curry leaves (get thee to the Indian grocery, they’re like a dollar a bag, and they smell amazing)
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1. Whisk the buttermilk, chickpea flour, sugar, salt, cayenne, and turmeric together in medium-size bowl until all lumps are gone. Stir in cilantro and curry leaves.
2. Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. This is an important step. Make sure the butter and pan are hot, but not smoking, and have your ingredients ready. Sprinkle the cumin and fenugreek seeds into the pan and sizzle them (they’ll turn reddish brown and fragrant), about 10 seconds.
3. Immediately add the okra and stir-fry until it browns a bit, 8 to 10 minutes. Stirring thoroughly will prevent spice mixture from burning!!
4. Pour in the buttermilk mixture and stir to deglaze the pan. Lower the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the okra is fork-tender and the sauce has thickened slightly, 10 to 14 minutes. The coolest part is that the sauce becomes more vibrantly yellow as you cook it.
Serve over rice (don’t feel compelled to eat the curry leaves).
This one goes out to my colleagues who continue to be pleasantly surprised that someone as, how can I put this, totally pale as me, actually knows and loves Indian food. (Who knew that okra would be the vegetable that connects cultures?)
Are you a fan of Indian food? Have you attempted cooking it at home? Post a comment, send a Tweet.
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Up next, Salad Bar Secrets: Don’t Hate the Green Leafy.