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CUISINE: Okra Curry

There is the legend of a poor young man who wanted to marry a princess. On hearing this, the king decided to teach the young upstart a lesson. He summoned the young man to court and ordered him to play a game of chess with his cleverest minister after one week. "If you outwit my minister, you can have the hand of my daughter," the king said. The young man immediately sought the counsel of the wise old woman who lived across the river. "Eat okra every day," she said. "It will increase your brainpower."

The young man did as he said and a week later beat the clever minister in a game of chess. He married the princess, who cooked him this okra curry every day, and they lived happily ever after.

This is a quick and easy dish and goes well with rice as well as chapatis. It requires a little more oil than other vegetable curries, mostly to keep the okra pieces from sticking together.

As children, we ate tons of okra because the elders assured us that it would make us smarter.

SERVES 4

Ingredients

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dal
1/4 teaspoon asafetida
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
2 lbs. okra, trimmed, washed, diced & dried between paper towels
1 teaspoon salt

Preparation

Heat the oil in a heavy medium-sized skillet until it smokes. Add the mustard seeds; when they sputter, add the urad dal, asafetida, turmeric, and chili powder.

Add the okra and salt, cook, stirring, over high head, uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes, until the okra is soft.

Serve immediately.

Excerpted with permission from "Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes"
by Shoba Narayan;
Villard Books, 223 pgs, $22.95.




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