Okra curry

Okra curry with chutney and raita

I fully got into the curry vibe during a weekend visit to Easton, Bristol, this weekend, with an evening at the wonderful Thali Café and a shop at the Sweet Mart.

I stocked up on okra, because as I live in the wilds of Somerset, even in a town like Frome, this vegetable is something of an exotic novelty for me these days. I love their impossibly funky bike wheel pattern when they’re sliced open, and their weird and unique ooziness.

This recipe is adapted from one I learnt at Little Cove Yoga Retreat in Goa. Don’t be deterred by the long list of ingredients; like many curry recipes, there’s really not that much to it once you get started, as most items listed below are spices you can just throw in.

Serves 4

Ingredients

3 tsp sunflower oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

3 medium-sized onions, finely chopped

5 cm piece of ginger, peeled, grated and finely chopped

2 green chillies, deseeded depending on heat preferred

5 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

300g okra, washed, topped and tailed

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp cumin seeds, lightly crushed

1 tsp garam masala

½ tsp salt

25 g fresh coriander, chopped

Method

Heat the oil on a medium-high heat and cook the mustard, coriander and fennel seeds for a few minutes, until the mustard seeds start to pop.

Turn the heat down to medium low and add the onions, ginger and chillies, cooking for 10 minutes.

While the onion is cooking, slice the okra into pieces about 0.5cm thick.

Chopped okra

After the onion has cooked for 10 minutes, add the garlic, turmeric, cumin seeds, garam masala and salt. Cook for a further 10 minutes.

Add the okra and 50ml of water and cook, covered, on a low heat for 20 minutes.

Add the coriander and cook for another 5 minutes.

Okra curry

Spice up your life

Indian curry spices

When I was seven, a friend came round for tea and saw my Mum putting bay leaves and cinnamon stick into whatever stew she was making for our dinner. This being the seventies rural Cambridgeshire, my friend had never seen these ingredients before and thought my Mum was a witch!

Cooking for me is something like bubbling up a magic potion. The chemistry of cooking is such that you can become an amateur alchemist and one of the easiest ways to wave a magic wand at your cooking to make it more special and more individual is to experiment with spices.

Be creative and ta-dah! You too can create your own wizardry effects.

Although stocking up on large money-saving bags in Asian supermarkets – such as the fantabulous Sweet Mart in Easton, Bristol, which I cannot recommend highly enough; it is packed full of reasonably priced culinary treasures from all over the world – can seem like a good idea at the time, most spices have to be absolutely fresh to taste at their best.

We need to warm ourselves up on these chilly, dark November nights and spices hit the spot for me. What are your favourite spices?

My top five essential spices:

1 Cumin – earthy and evocative of many different cuisines, including Middle Eastern, Indian and Mexican

2 Garam masala – a mother of an Indian friend made this for me once and it was so brilliant I used it for over a year without it going stale. With a spice grinder it’s easy to make your own though. Simply place 3 tbsp of cardamom seeds, 2 tbsp of cumin seeds, 1 tbsp of peppercorns, half a cinnamon stick, 6 cloves and ½tsp of ground nutmeg into a spice mill for a few minutes.

3 Tumeric – good for colour in the obvious curries but also a cheap and easy alternative to saffron for paella

4 Chinese five spice – use this for a dish to be shared with friends and an utterly irresistible fragrance will greet them as they enter your house

5 Smoked paprika – want to add an instant Spanish kick to a dish? Use this, now widely available in supermarkets and an integral ingredient of chorizo