Coconut rice with sambal and okra

September 22, 2012

Coconut rice with sambal and okra

Page 230, Ottolenghi

 Ottolenghi’s Plentyhas made me rethink many vegetables that I either believed I disliked (eggplant) or was apathetic toward (fennel). His use of herbs and citrus and his innovative and totally simple cooking techniques have made me an eggplant lover and took fennel right into one of my lists of favorites. So I had VERY high hopes for what he could do for my intense hatred of okra.

Earlier this month, B, SG, and I were sitting around a fire, having a conversation about the foods that we hate, when we dreamed up the idea for each of us to make a dish using the most hated food of another of us. B hated black-eyed peas;  SG chose her nemesis, olives; and me? I chose okra. Slimy and muccous-like, I have never found a preparation that made me want to put that in my mouth.  A few nights later we sat down to a rather unorthodox meal of black-eyed pea fritters with homemade tomato sauce and fried sage (made by me), lamb chops with a goat cheese, olive and artichoke compound butter topped with fresh tomato/caper relish (made by B), and sweet-potato crusted fried okra with a bacon/plum compote (made by SG). Our dinner was a huge success for B, who liked all of the dishes, and confirmed an intense okra and olive dislikes for SG and myself.

Still, I was willing to try again. Fresh okra is beautiful and this morning at the Farmers Market, B and  I were seduced again by the bright green pods at a local grower’s stall.

I figured that if anyone (other than SG) could make me like okra, it was Ottolenghi. He has a recipe that barely cooks them, and then adds a glorious chili sambal sauce before serving them over a ginger and coconut rice. I used all of his tricks for keeping the slime at bay — they were barely cooked, and cooked whole with a generous dose of lemon juice (my addition) before being dryed off and then hot seared with the sambal. And? No way. I really do hate okra. Luckily the sambal, lime and cilantro on top of coconut rice was a perfectly delicious meal all by itself for me, while B got to enjoy all the okra she wanted (which was a significant amount, thankfully!)

1 and 1/4 lbs okra
1 big handful cilantro, chopped
2 limes, halved

For the sambal

5 fresh red chillies , deseeded
5 dried red chillies , deseeded
20 red baby shallots, peeled
1 clove garlic, peeled
½ tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp  sugar
1 tbsp thick tamarind water (seedless tamarind paste whisked with a little water and strained)

For the rice

1 and 2/3 cups basmati rice ( I used brown basmati)
½ tsp salt
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 and 1/2 cups water
6 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
6 thin slices ginger

Start with the sambal. Put the chillies, shallots, garlic and salt in a food processor, add two tablespoons each of oil and water, and process for a minute, until you have a fine paste (or do this with a pestle and mortar, in which case add the liquids after you have a paste). Put a wok or large, heavy frying pan on a high heat. Add the remaining oil and, when hot, add the paste and stir. Reduce the heat, and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes, until it’s dark red and oily. Off the heat, stir in the sugar and tamarind water, and set aside.  (Alternately, I used store bough sambal — i am sure it was not as good as Ottolenghi’s fresh, but it made dinner a snap!)

Wash the rice in cold water, drain and put in a medium pan. Heat the rice a little, then add the salt, coconut milk, water, lime leaves and ginger. Stir, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to minimum. Cover, simmer for 12 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave covered for another 10 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, bring a medium pan of water to a boil. Add the okra and cook for two to three minutes only. Drain, refresh under cold water and leave to dry.

Gently reheat the sambal, then stir in the okra to warm it up (don’t cook it any longer). Fluff the rice with a fork, and spoon into bowls. Top with okra and sauce, and sprinkle over the cilantro. Put half a lime with each serving, for squeezing over.

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