The Great Festive Okra Recipe


A very dear friend, who really should have known better, asked me for an okra recipe, because I’m the greatest bhindi lover she knows, she says. She’s having guests over next weekend and rashly decided to make bhindi and recklessly appealed to me for a suitable recipe. I, being the kind of helpful chap I am, will give her two. This is the first of them. Tomorrow, ( yes, I promise! ) you get the other one! Remind me to tell you about her, some day…

A word about this recipe. This ain’t your normal run-of-the-mill okra recipe; the kind I whip together from a frozen pack of pre-cut okra. The kind that goes from freezer to plate in about 19.89655 minutes. Approximately. I don’t actually time these things. But I straddle Leo and Virgo, so some attempt at precision is indicated. Just to keep the Virgo half happy.

Well, then… Actually, I have a story about “Well then.” Umpteen million years ago when I was pretending to study for my university degree course, I joined some dramatic people. Theatrical types. No, no, they didn’t walk around declaiming, exclaiming and emoting. I meant folks involved in the dramatic arts. My acting career actually ended in an under-rehearsed, under-produced commercial rendition of “Spring Awakening”, by Franke Wedekind. One of the characters was called Wendla. Accents being strange things, one of the other actors always pronounced it as “Vendla”. Ever since then, I have always, in my head, said “Vell then, Vendla!”, when confronted with the need to say “Well, then.” Not much of a story. Not much of a role, my role in this play. A bit part, with one line at the funeral, which was effectively the requiem for my thespianism.

Vell, zen, zis is a recipe for a party, one that includes guests you want to impress a bit. It is likely, that telling them you read my blog is not going to be enough. There is, to be fair, always the chance that they may not be impressed by okra, ( bhindi, if Indian ). But if you tell them that this recipe is complicated and that you had to not just follow a complicated recipe but also had to read this blog at the same time, you should see their eyes widen and new respect dawn over their faces. Especially, if they have experienced this blog. ( If not, ask them why not? )

So here goes:

Ingredients

1 kg of fresh bhindi ( “okra” if North American, “ladies finger”, if English speaking Indian ). This recipe is really hard to do with the frozen variety.

2 medium onions

1 ( or 2 ) ( or more ) green chillies ( Thai chillies )

The masala paste from a jar of Indian pickle ( achar, if Indian ) of your choice

Salt to taste

Turmeric – a quarter teaspoon

Garam masala ( melange of Indian spices – coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom etc) < Digression Alert: Why so many spices starting with “C”? Write in and tell me why; I want to know. Please? >

Oil – vegetable oil of your choice.

Equipment

A food processor. One that pulverizes vegetables into pulp.

Something to stir with. I find the best bet is one of those flat things the Bengalis call khunti. It’s like a small ice-breaker, the kind we in the frozen Tundra need of a winter ( 9 months in a year ) to break down the sheet of ice on the walkways and driveways.

Method

Wash the okra. Pat dry. Set aside to dry some more.

Set up the food processor.

Peel the onions and cut into half, then quarter. First cut this way and then cut that way to do so.

Chuck the onions into the food processor. Bung in the green chilli ( or chillies ).

Whiz the thing together till you get an onion paste. Drain it well.

Now take each okra one by one and make an incision in the side of each. Try, very hard, not to slit it from end to end. Watch your palm! Take your time and use a sharp knife. I would suggest start early in the morning around 6am, if guests are expected to arrive at 6pm. But, look at it this way, you can recount the extra effort and gain the admiration of those of your guests who are easily impressed. Think positive.

Now have a look at the onion paste. Drain again.

To the onion paste add the pickle paste making an onion pickle paste. Now stuff it. I mean, stuff this mixture into each incision of each okra. When done, sigh under your breath and wonder why you ever started this.

Heat oil in a pan, kadhai. Let it heat up nice and hot.

To the oil, add the okra. Let fry a bit. Then add salt, garam masala in turmeric. Sometimes to make things exciting I switch the order in which I add the salt and spices. You can too. Be adventurous.

Now use the khunti, and gently, turn over. The bhindi! Not you!

Turn the heat way, way down. Let it simmer gently. Turn sparingly. Occasionally.

Serve

Serve with parathas, my preference, or any Indian bread of your choice. Sprinkling with fresh coriander leaves is superfluous. Besides, you just spent about 3 hours painstakingly slitting and stuffing. Forget the coriander.

If you let me know in advance, I will fly out for the taste test. Anything, for a friend, really. I’m very friendly and helpful that way.

Copyright as shown. I didn’t have pics of my own and time is of the essence. This is sort of what it will look like when done.
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Gas Toast – Part 2


Please read Gas Toast – Part 1 first. This is the easy part of the recipe. I kid you not. Completely true. We’re getting into the really hard part of the recipe.

Equipment:

Gas – If you don’t have a gas line and a stove that uses the gas coming from the gas line, you’ll have to move houses. Sell this one and move to one that has a gas line and a gas stove.

Told ya it was difficult.

 

The Gizmo
The Gizmo

Next: get this gizmo. Very useful piece of equipment. Very useful indeed if you want to seko rotis….. Not that I use it for that purpose. No, I use it to make Gas Toast.

 

Here is how. Once you’ve gone through all the steps listed in Gas Toast – Part 1, find a long bread knife. Flip loaf over head down and slice off as many slices as you wish to eat. Wrap the rest of the bread in plastic wrap and set aside.

Now take one slice and place on gizmo. Light up the gas burner. Turn on the exhaust. Especially, if you have a smoke sensor….. 🙂 Now hold gizmo exactly between 2.3578214 and 2.89423 inches above the flame. In about 55.5685 seconds the toast will be completely charred. Throw it away and try another slice. This time watch it like a hawk, inspecting to make sure it gets toasted to the desired level. (You can adjust the flame too, you know. There is that knob there. It’s there for a reason.) Hold it off the flame and flip slice over. Toast the other side. Remove to plate. Apply butter as per taste.

Bite. Chew. Repeat.

I will say this. When you ( read “You” as “I”) have an upset stomach, this is the ultimate comfort food. When down and feeling blue, this is the #2 ranked comfort food.

No prizes are being awarded for knowing what the #1 ranked comfort food is.

Did you solve the 176-671 reference quiz question I gave you in Gas Toast – Part 1? Lazy bones!

Gas Toast – Part 1.


5-12919847_10153295004551582_421671344977939437_n
It is a loaf of bread, take my word for it… and completely edible. I ate it and lived to tell the tale…

It has been a while since I wrote a recipe. Now, I know, I know, you still haven’t got over the fact that it took you 890 words to get to the actual chicken kebab recipe and it is 2 hours of your life you won’t get back. What? It doesn’t take you 2 hours to read 890 words of flowing, stream of consciousness prose? What’s that? Fifteen? Hours? oh, ok, minutes! So what are you complaining about??

Anyway, here we go, right away into the recipe. ( This has got to be the shortest preamble I’ve written for a post.. I mean, here we are at just about a 100 words and we’re talking about getting into the recipe… I must be losing my touch.)

So what is gas toast, then? To answer this we must go back in time. For this is a highly complex recipe. It uses techniques that have stood the test of time. By which I mean it’s a very old recipe. It must be at least 40 years old. That’s old to a millenial. For someone like me in their early 30s, it’s an aspirational goal. Oh alright… I know you know and I needn’t lie about my age. Got it. Shall we move on? To the recipe? We shall? Orlrighty then! Continue reading “Gas Toast – Part 1.”

Immigrant Tales – Alien food


Toronto skyline with CN Tower (c) Ajesh Sharma
Toronto skyline with CN Tower (c) Ajesh Sharma

I think you all know by now, or should, that I moved countries. In fact, I moved continents. Not physically, no. No, not literally! That’s impossible! I moved myself from one continent to the other nearly 2 decades ago. Whew! I’m glad we got that sorted out. Well, I had a request to write about that experience. Specifically, the issues faced by immigrants in a foreign land. Food wise. For immigrants, read ‘aliens’. Never one to miss an opportunity to write about something, anything, no matter how weird, I jumped at this one. About 5 days ago. I’m currently suspended in mid-air…

Anyway, back in the summer of 1997 I left Calcutta ( modern day Kolkata ) bound for Toronto’s Pearson Airport. I came via Bombay ( present day, Mumbai ), then Delhi ( modern day Delhi ) and finally Toronto ( modern day Chandigarh-Shanghai ). I came with 2 suitcases, a passport with a fold out permit and US$ 550 in my pocket. I shall chat about that some other time.  As a penniless immigrant, I took up a room in a high school on Hurontario Street in the city of Mississauga. The school lay behind a funeral parlor and abutted Trillium Hospital, which figures in another couple of stories, to be told later.

Living in the school was a very strange experience. The entire 2nd floor was rented out to an odd collection of immigrants and refugees. The incumbents included young immigrant couples, married but temporarily single men like me, elderly refugees, a very odd single woman 3 doors from me and a crusty old man who had the room next to mine on the other side of the corner common room. The rooms were tiny, with space for a single bed, a built in desk, a cupboard and a sink. I also paid extra for a tiny refrigerator and a phone. It was a very interesting few months in there……A detailed article about the suicide, the murder, the crazy lady, the fire alarms, my crusty neighbour on the other side of the common room etc. is out of scope of this article.

The bathroom, shared with the other residents, was across the corridor to my right. The large common kitchen was half a floor down. I bought myself a small plastic crate to carry my oils, spices, pots down to the kitchen. I would cook simple meals for myself. In the early days, I didn’t venture into cooking any meats at all. Just stuck to simple daals, okra ( of course 🙂 !! ). I learned to make cauliflower, broccoli, basic potato curries and rice. I would take a book down with me, start up the cooking, then sit legs up on the window sill and read while the food simmered. Not too bad as times go.

Grocery shopping was done on weekends and consisted of basic elements. Potatoes, onions, tomatoes, bread, milk, coffee. There were two grocery stores about 500 metres from me. One took credit cards and the other didn’t. I don’t know how to make rotis. I know all about the geometry of rotis – I wrote an article on that once, remember? The art of kneading the dough, the rolling out and the actual making though, is still not one of my few skills.

The choice, therefore , was rice, or a roti substitute. At the time, the closest thing I could find to rotis was tortillas. Not quite the same thing, but not very different either. Then finding fresh okra was difficult. Frozen okra was a challenge and it took a few tries to get it right,so the ice off the okra didn’t make the curry into a sticky coagulated mash. Fresh okra was the gumbo variety not the Indian okra I was used to. Again, close, but not quite there. I had brought with me a round stainless steel container with 7 round bowls inside. I had also brought with me basic spices. Coriander powder, Cumin powder, red chilly powder and turmeric. Salt I could find easily at the grocery, the others were hard to find.

As I got to know the residents of the school, I found a couple of Indians who had been around longer than me. They pointed me to an Indian grocery store just a bit further on, at the corner of Hurontario and Dundas. That store has since expanded and taken over most of the strip mall now. At the time, it was much smaller, carried a few odd Indian vegetables but the main attraction of the store was the Indian spices and lentils which I could not get in the regular grocery stores.

I bought only limited quantities. First, I had no storage in my room. Then, cooking for one person was hard to do at first. Cooking for 2 or 3 people is easier than cooking for one. Many a day, after a long day, spent in public transport and on foot, dressed in a suit, I would come home totally exhausted and barely be able to throw a curry together. When tortillas were not available, I had the curry with slices of bread.

On the beat, looking for a job, I had to make do with cheap sandwiches. I started with McDonalds McFish and McChicken and often ate at small delis in Toronto or tinier convenience stores that carried shrinkwrapped sandwiches with indeterminate deli meat labelled “turkey” or “ham and cheese”. Some days, I was so hot from the walking around that I would stop and grab a small bottle of orange or apple juice. I can happily report that in nearly 2 decades of life in North America, I have not eaten a Big Mac, or a Whopper. Good, no?

It was a far cry from the world I’d left behind. Sandwiches in Calcutta were not the norm. Fruit juices were not available freely, other than Mohun’s Apple Juice, which my mother served to us when we were convalescing from the usual kiddie maladies. Food, especially after marriage, was varied and included raw papaya curry, encho curry, fish, chicken curries, usual daals, rice and fresh rotis. Of all the things, I missed the rotis the most. Tortillas just didn’t cut it. Once I found the Indian grocery store, though, I was able to get packs of naans and kulchas. A step up from tortillas! I learned how to heat up the kulchas / naans on a griddle from my sister-in-law; soak under tap, place on hot griddle, apply butter, flip apply butter, wait 20 seconds and off. Comes out soft.

As the summer wore on, I was violently sick, carted off to Trillium hospital next door in an ambulance, had my first taste of grapefruit juice and then moved out of the city. First for a 4 week stint in Amherst, NY and Williamsville, NY and finally, Niagara Falls, ON. And the Indian food scenario became even more dire.  More on that in the next instalment.

Damn, I miss fresh rotis! Still!

Breakfast Options


English: Beans on toast
English: Beans on toast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, I’ve been lax. I’ve been busy working on things. What? Oh, editing The Play ( still nameless, after all these days ). As well as The Play ( still nameless ), I also made major headway in anchoring The Memoirs, ( not nameless at all. On the contrary has rather too many names. A larger discussion of those names is probably out of scope of this article.) Why, you ask?

Well, look at the header. It says “Breakfast”. Quite clearly. So naturally the thing that comes to mind is cricket. The game, not the insect. Though, I suppose, there are breakfasts that can be made from crickets, the insects, not the game. I woke up today with the news that there is a World Cup of Cricket on somewhere in India and the hosts India were meeting Pakistan. So naturally, when the rains came crashing down and delayed the start, it gave me the chance to focus on my breakfast.

My breakfast this morning was unusual. Tea, milky and sweet with a soft untoasted slice of white bread and butter. Followed 20 minutes later by the usual breakfast of a large cup of coffee and 2 pieces of rye toast made from Polish rye with sunflower seeds. In another departure from the norm, neither slice of toast was covered in marmalade. How weird and interesting is that?

It’s not? Well, anyway, here I am at 10:45pm with the day almost done. I’ve had my dinner. Bhel puri, papri chaat, a slice of pizza, some Sprite to wash it down, my cetirizine pill followed by the steroids and antibiotics I’m on right now. Oh, in between I had a business meeting where I had a small coffee, dark roast, black, and small slice of pie. I came home late for lunch and had rajmah chawal ( red kidney beans curry with rice, if non-Indian) with spicy mango pickle at breakneck speed because I was so hungry. I washed that down with 1.5 kiwi fruit.

Now you’re thinking, is he a nut or nut case? Well, I haven’t had any nuts today. Talking of which, have you ever tried to incorporate nuts into your breakfast? Well, I haven’t. No one has. Nuts for breakfast? That’s just crazy! No, breakfast should be fun, nutty in a non-nutty way, by which I mean, there should be no nuts involved. No, no. Bread, beans, onions. Possibly bacon, ham, potatoes. Those are the basic building blocks of a breakfast. Sausages! So let’s get to some recipes. I shall put a couple up. For the Veggie people and then the non-Veggies as well.


Veggie – Beans on toast.

A very simple way to make a great breakfast.

Ingredients:

  • Bread. Cut thick slices. Any good white, sandwich loaf will do.
  • A can of baked beans in tomato sauce.
  • An onion.
  • Green chillies.
  • Salt and pepper.

Method:

  • Toast bread.
  • Chopp onions finely.
  • Chop the chillies finely too.
  • Open can of beans, pour into a saucepan, light stove, heat beans through.
  • Place toast in plate. Scoop warm beans over the toast, generously.
  • Top with onions, chillies, salt and pepper.
  • Best with coffee, preferably black, with one sugar.

 

Non-Veggie: Spiced Hashbrowns with Bacon 

Ingredients:

  • Potatoes (2 or 3)
  • Bacon strips ( about 3-4)
  • 1 onion
  • Salt and pepper
  • Green chillies ( optional )
  • Tabasco ( optional )
  • Fresh coriander ( optional )
  • Cast iron pan
  • Plate with paper to drain bacon.

Method:

  • Chop potatoes into little dice.
  • Slice onions into short slices.
  • In a cold cast iron pan, lay down bacon strips, turn on heat. Cook bacon, till almost crispy, remove and drain on paper on a plate. Set aside.
  • Don’t throw away that fat in the bottom of the pan!
  • In the same pan, chuck in the onions and potatoes.
  • If using the green chillies add those too.
  • Let it cook, stirring occasionally, about 3-5 minutes.
  • Add salt, pepper, tabasco to taste.
  • Rough chop cooked bacon, crumble over the mixture and let it cook until potatoes are done.
  • Chop up fresh coriander, sprinkle and turn off the heat. Mix.

Serve with toast and coffee.

I suppose both breakfast options above could be had with eggs made anyway you like. I don’t know. Eggs and I maintain diplomatic relations of a decidedly frosty nature these days, so while I can give you lovely eggy recipes. I won’t.

No. I remain adamant. I shall reclaim my curmudgeonly right to say no to eggs. For now. Maybe another day, if  you all write to me and clamour for my egg recipes, I will.

Until then, drink coffee. It’s good for you. I’m sure there’s a study somewhere that proves it.

Banana Bread


6-20160220_221917I haven’t given you a recipe in a while. I haven’t give you a story in a while. I haven’t given you a rant.. uh, well, ok, it hasn’t been that long since I put up a rant. Anyway, here is a recipe, an honest to goodness recipe. But first!

Buy bananas.

Forget they exist for a few days. Tut tut as they ripen, uneaten. Watch anxiously as they go from a yellowish green to Continue reading “Banana Bread”

Five Easy Sandwiches


English: A pat of butter, served on a leaf, wi...
English: A pat of butter, served on a leaf, with a butter knife and bread (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ok, I think this blog could do with a bump in readership. Now food, recipes and kitty cats improve the stats but I don’t like cats ( what? you had no idea? Hmmm … you must be new around here. )  So here are some simple recipes. I cannot promise you that these sandwiches are healthy, calorie-wise or otherwise good for you. I can tell you that these are good to eat, fast to make and as far as I know contain no lead, melamine, dog food or antibiotics. Without further ado, on with the list. Continue reading “Five Easy Sandwiches”

Blue Spring


Yes, that’s the colour ( color, if American ) of spring and to prove it I’m going to show you a set of pictures with lovely hues of blue. First though, lets start with this one.

wpid-20150412_131918.jpgAs you can see, not only are the arms of the bush a brilliant red, the jacket of the old lady sitting sunning herself is also red. But the recycle bin is blue, the garbage bin is grey and if you examine the Continue reading “Blue Spring”

Mishti Doi


Cool Mishti Doi on a hot summer day in Kolkata...
Cool Mishti Doi on a hot summer day in Kolkata. Quenching and sweet and provides relief. http://www.feastguru.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well – they asked me to.

Ok, well, what actually happened was this. One of my friends, who writes poetry here and is also an artist, facts that I do not hold against her, posted an article on the benefits of bhindi, aka okra. For my benefit.

Then another friend said “Please put up an article where mishti doi is beneficial to health. I am sure one of those must be around”. Naturally, being the goody-goody, helpful type that I am, I offered to Continue reading “Mishti Doi”

Peas and Paneer


DSC_3004So I’m back from Kolkata or Calcutta, as it used to be and will ever be for some, like me. It was a crowded trip, with remembrance services, weddings, school and college reunions interspersed with sporadic maintenance shopping. ( I’ll have to explain that some other day, that “maintenance” thing.)  It was three years since my last visit, so naturally on my way there I’d wondered what changes I would see, other than the omnipresent blue and white paint I’d been warned about, which is, as you can see from the picture, true.

The short answer is: Continue reading “Peas and Paneer”