Okra comes from the Heart of Africa. Somewhere. Like so many things that come from Africa - including humanity itself perhaps - Okra has made its way all over the world. From West Africa (enchained) to the Caribbean as Quimbombo and to North America as Gumbo – from Egypt to Greece and the Middle East as Bamya – and from Ethiopia eastward to India as Bhindi.
I grew up in Africa – it is a deeply magical place where you always feel that palpable sense of primal origins... it's in the landscape, it's in the air, and all the creatures know it, and it is confirmed every morning.
The Dawn, a great song by Osibisa that I listened to on repeat as a teenager, begins beautifully with the sounds of arising:
'...and the root is early one morning in the heart of Africa.'
Some flavour of that song is in the Bhindi Masala my mother used to make - and while it took me some time to get on the Bhindi train as a kid, it's pretty tasty stuff now. Bhindi Masala with yogurt and roti is pretty fine food.
My mum's Okra Masala recipe
(Don't get them wet!)
Okra is a bit like the Mogwai in The Gremlins - stuff starts to happen when you get them wet. Okra seeds magically begin to produce a lot of mucilage when in contact with water - it's what they like to do, they get slimy.
That's used to advantage in dishes like Gumbo and Quibombo, as a thickener for the stews... but for a yummy Bhindi Masala without the mucilage factor, the secret is to hold the water - either by keeping them whole or by a dry preparation with acidic elements - tomato and lemon juice.
Don't wash them and whatever you do - don't get them wet!
A Book Project...
I have a book project I would like to develop - it's the recipe development and translation of my mum's recipes - including Bhindi Masala.
My sister and I extracted these recipes over time from a truly great cook - and a reluctant discloser of secrets. As we pried the recipes from her one by one - we discovered that what she said and what she did were often different. Keen observation was needed. You have to keep people guessing I guess.
It's a long story of beginnings, middles and endings. I kind of imagine it as a book of stories and recipes with drawings and pictures - a kind of illustrated-recipe-travelogue-adventures-of-life kind of book.
A mash-up of things and confluences - a bit like this blog, perhaps? (with real recipes)
As always, thanks for reading and indulging!
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