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Cookery: Rising to the okra challenge

by
06 June 2012

by Terence Handley MacMath

WHAT’s in the fridge? Ah, the okra I have been avoiding, and some nearly past-its-sell-by-date mackerel. Fish curry for supper, then. But the okra is a challenge.

I didn’t choose it: it chose me. More accurately, it came home in one of those big bags of vegetables that the stallholders put together at the end of the day, when they hope to tempt you to clear up their wares.

I couldn’t take all the cabbage and leave someone else all the okra, because the market lore is that you have to have a bit of everything. Very good value, admittedly, but some­times you end up with a strange assort­ment of odds and ends to tax your ingenuity.

Okra (or “ladies’ fingers”, a rather grisly name for these curved, pointed green vegetables) is a bit like Marmite: either you love the strange mucila­ginous juice it exudes, or you don’t.

A friend of mine, Swati, to the rescue, then. She is a brilliant cook. The solution is to roast it. Cut off the stalk ends and discard them. Toss the “fingers” in a little olive oil, and season them well with salt, pepper, and a little ground cumin. Roast them in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. A very good flavour — a little like haricot beans, perhaps.

A fish curry is usually made with white fish fillets, but you can use any kind — and you can add some prawns, if you like them. It is a good way to present frozen fish fillets, too. For the sauce you will need:

1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
a good oil
1 teaspoon cumin, coriander, turmeric, and garam masala
25mm (1 inch) fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 green chilli, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
a good oil
1 teaspoon cumin, coriander, turmeric, and garam masala
25mm (1 inch) fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 green chilli, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes

Fry the onion and garlic gently in a splash of oil, and when they are tender, add the spices. Take care not to brown or scorch anything, just allow the spices to become heated and fragrant. Add the ginger and chilli, and stir gently until they are heated through. Add the tomatoes, and let the sauce simmer gently to combine the flavours.

Add the fish fillets to the sauce, and let them cook until just tender — about ten minutes. Alternatively, if you have a lot of fish, double the sauce ingredients, pour the sauce over the fish in an ovenproof casserole, and bake for about 20 minutes in a medium-hot oven. Serve with natural yogurt, fresh coriander, and naan bread.

Fish, in the English mind, goes with peas, and peas come into their own in early summer. I like Gillian McKeith’s solution to keeping peas on the knife. She serves fish on a purée of leeks and carrots, and with an eider­down of peas roughly puréed with fresh mint.

Her suggestion of a leek and carrot mattress is delicious, and I like to braise the fish on a bed of sliced leeks, grated carrot, plenty of lemon juice, stock, seasoning, and perhaps a dash of white wine. Orange juice is par­ticularly good with fresh mackerel fil­lets. Serve with minted new potatoes.

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