Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Exotic Feasts

Faith Te, Okra (Daily Painting No. 360), 2010

These three recipes come from Sri Owen’s Exotic Feasts, a really superb cookbook.  Ms. Owen is also the author of the magisterial Indonesian Food and Cookery and The Rice Book.

Playing post-lunch hooky on a blindingly hot workday about 20 years ago, I remember finding this book on the shelf of a small, but excellent bookstore on Third Street in Los Angeles. Both the bookstore and the book were real “finds”and I spent the rest of the day sneaking gazes at the recipes (even while attending meetings) and planning a return visit.

Most people I know passionately maintain that they can’t stand okra, their main complaint being the vegetable’s gluey, somewhat sticky texture.  For me, it was love at second sight and I’m sure I first truly enjoyed it in an Indian preparation and moved on quickly from there to other cuisines, such as Cajun, African and Caribbean.  Pickled okra was my daughter Jane’s first (and for a long time only) green vegetable; deep-fried okra was her second.

Growing okra is easy and great fun.  It’s a beautiful plant, strongly sculptural and delicately feathered with a dark, luminous green hue reminiscent of artichokes.  It also has a lovely flower.

In addition to the braised okra, I’ve included a basic rice recipe, which supplements several previous rice posts, and a Pineapple Parfait, which is part of this Sri Owen Exotic Feast.  Rice has always been my favorite food.  However, I am forsaking it for several months in favor of a diet consisting of "a bowl of steam," as the old Woody Allen joke goes.

Jimmie Trotter, Okra Flower Painting, 2009

 Spiced Braised Okra 

Okra or ladies’ fingers have a rather oily texture, which has prevented them from becoming really popular in the West; but when people have eaten them once or twice they usually like them.  They are not difficult to get, at least in large towns, because they are so important to Indian cooking.  Choose young ones, which are smaller in size.  To prepare them simply trim off a little bit of the bottom part, which is rather hard.

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 shallots, finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
3 large green chillies, seeded and sliced into thin rounds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
3 ripe tomatoes, skinned and seeded, then roughly chopped
750 g (1 ½ lb) young okra, washed, then trimmed and patted dry
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves or flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan, and fry the shallots, garlic and green chillies, stirring them continuously, for 2 minutes.  Add the ground coriander and cumin, stir again and add the chopped tomatoes and okra.  Stir, then cover the wok or pan and simmer for 4 minutes.  Remove the cover, and then add the sugar and salt. Stir the okra again for one minute.  Adjust the seasoning, and add the coriander leaves or parsley.  Stir for 30 seconds.

      If the okra are not to be served straight away, leave them to cool in the wok pan.  When cold, cover it and keep in a cool place.  Reheat in the wok or pan, stirring them often, for 2-3 minutes, or until hot.

Faith Te, Bowl of Rice with Soy Sauce 2011

Plain Cooked Rice

Maybe the quantity of rice specified here is a little too much; it is quite difficult for me, as an oriental born in a rice eating society, to judge how much rice a European will eat at a dinner party.  But with spicy curry anyone will need a quite generous helping of rice.

875 g (1 ½ lb) Thai fragrant, Basmati or Patna rice.
900 ml (1 ½ pints) cold water

Wash the rice in a bowl with two changes of water, and drain well.  Then transfer the rice into a thick-bottomed saucepan.  Add the water and bring to the boil.  Simmer the rice, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed.  Stir the rice once, then put on the cover very tightly.  Lower the heat and leave the rice to finish cooking for another 10 minutes.  

The rice is now ready to serve.

Alternatively, after the first 10 minutes, the rice can be transferred into a steamer and then steamed for 10 minutes.  Or you can transfer the rice into a bowl, cover it loosely with clingfilm or with a plate, and microwave it on full power for 5 minutes.

Justin Clayton, Pineapple Wedges, 2006

Pineapple Parfait

Serve the parfait like ice cream, accompanied by almond biscuits if you wish.

1 medium-size ripe pineapple
600 ml (1 pint) double cream
4 egg whites
a pinch of salt
200 g (7 oz) caster sugar

With a sharp knife cut away the plume and base of the pineapple.  Then remove the skin in strips, quite thickly so that the eyes are removed at the same time.  Wash the whole pineapple under running cold water.  Then cut it in half lengthways, and carefully remove the core.  Cut each half into 8-10 thin long wedges, then chop these into tiny piees.  Keep the chopped pineapple with the juice in a large glass bowl.

      With a hand-held electric beater, whisk the cream until thick but not too stiff, and keep it aside. Put the egg white in another bowl, add the pinch of salt and whisk it until stiff.  Then add half the sugar, while you continue whisking until the mixture stands in peaks.  Add the remaining sugar, whisk the egg whites for 30 seconds more.  Using a metal spoon, fold in the cream and add the chopped pineapple a little at a time, stirring gently.  Transfer the parfait into a plastic container, cover and freeze until required.

      Take the parfait out of the freezer 20 minutes before serving.


 Sri Owen in London (home base)


  1. I'm sold on the pineapple parfait, but mustn't indulge for awhile. As for okra, when I lived in North Carolina, I tried extremely hard to acquire a taste (or more aptly, a tolerance) for the vegetable which is extremely popular in those parts. Gluey is a good word. Slimy is the one that comes to mind. However, I might try again with your spiced braised okra recipe. Lovely photos! Again, thanks to you, Caroline, and Jane for the kind birthday wishes.

  2. I'm cooking the okra tomorrow. I was specifically avoiding the word "slimy"; thanks for approving of gluey. As you probably know, okra's very good for you. An easy (out of a foil pouch and into the microwave) lunch I often enjoy is Bhindi Masala. There is a good Indian food company called MTR that sells it and we buy it at a local Indian grocery. I think they actually developed their prepared food product lines for the army, but they're unbelievably good. Hope your birthday was great. I like the pictures also. Faith Te is a self-taught painter I found on the internet who lives and works in the Phillipines and publishes a painting a day. Some of them are rather nice. It's difficult to find an attractive picture of cooked okra. Curtis

  3. Don't I feel foolish! The paintings are so realistic. In fact, the rice is ricier, and the pineapple, pineapplier. They really do make me hungry.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I had to rewrite this because I lost my train of thought before and there were a million misspellings and twisted sentences. Earlier, I forgot to mention that I was happy to be one year older yesterday. My father died when he was 60. During this past year, I thought of him often. How he must have been feeling that last year of his life when he was so sick? What was he thinking? I think he would be happy that I made it to 61, and that makes me very happy. Oh, and thanks for the info about MTR.

  5. I expect your father is very, very happy, actually. I think of him quite often. Curtis

  6. Thank you for your thoughtful words, Curtis. Nell