chinese okra in a white curry: comfort and conundrum
The most telling thing about this curry is that though it is not one that I grew up loving or am all nostalgic about, it’s one that I request from my mom whenever I miss her cooking. Even though I came to love it later in life–apparently I didn’t love it when I was little–it’s such a comfort that it gives me warm fuzzies to rival any of my childhood faves.
It’s all in the harmony of texture and flavour with this one. White curries, which in Sri Lankan cooking are notable for the absence of roasted curry powder present in brown sauces, are milder in flavour and usually milder in heat too, although recipes do usually include at least one little chili. They’re typically made with non-acidic vegetables and eggs, as opposed to say tomatoes or meat, and are always served to very young children for whom the other curries may still be a little too bold.
Those milder white curry flavours combined with cooked Chinese okra (which is not much like the okra you may be familiar with) creates a silky, mellow but delicious dish. Over a bowl of fresh, white rice, everything melds into one another and all the pleasantness goes beyond the bowl–would you believe me if I said you’re left with a sense that something good is enveloping you? That kind of warm and comforting.
You’ll want to pour as much of the milky gravy on top as you can so that you’re also left with a sauce at the bottom of your bowl that you could drink it, and I’m not ashamed to say I would pick up my bowl to do so. I’ll go further and suggest that you should make a bean curry and a darker, roasted curry too because when those sauces get in there and start mingling, it’s a whole other thing. You’ll be pushed out of the realm of comfort and into a state of, well, greed and desire. Comfort or ardor? I’ll leave you with that conundrum. And the recipe.
Chinese Okra Curry My mom’s recipe.
*The okra will cook down considerably so you don’t have to worry about over-crowding the pot. You can layer the spices if you wish or simple mix everything together once the okra has reduced and released water, making it easier to stir.
2 lbs Chinese okra (also known as loofah, ridged gourd, and in Sinhalese, watakolu)
1 small onion or 2 shallots, sliced
1 small serrano chili, destemmed and sliced
10 fresh curry leaves (or frozen)
1″ piece of rampe (pandan leaf), fresh or frozen
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp fennugreek seeds
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups of coconut milk (or whole milk or 2% milk)
Wash the unpeeled okra well, getting in between the ridges, and pat dry. Peel the hard ridges off the okra completely, then peel the remaining skin from the okra taking care not to peel too deep (peel to the pale green beneath the skin as opposed to the white flesh). Do not wash after peeling or it will soak up water like a sponge. Cut them into 1/2-inch pieces on a diagonal. Add to a pot with the rest of the ingredients, except the coconut milk, and mix well*. Add 1/2 cup of the milk and cook covered on medium-high heat till it is soft, checking it often to make sure it doesn’t boil over. Add the rest of the milk bring back to a slow simmer, lower heat slightly and cook, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes more. Enjoy with a bowl of rice.