In the Thick of It – Okra Leaves
An even worse idea is to cook something you’ve never heard of before, never seen before, and don’t really understand, using a new recipe, that you have of course changed because, well, you’re just that inspired (or stupid?). Now there’s a recipe for disaster!
But hey. You only live once! And if you don’t try, you never learn!
So I was thinking about how to cook up the okra leaves we had bought last weekend. As mentioned, there is almost nothing to read in English on the Internet regarding okra leaves. So I was pretty much on my own. My only hint had been given to my by a fellow shopper – who indicated that the leaves should be chopped fine and had a thickening effect. No indication of how strong an effect.
We tasted some of the leaves raw, but they were quite bland. Just a mild grassy taste. Nothing of real note.
I chopped a few up in a sort of chiffonade cut. Nothing remarkable. I expected to see that sort of milky fluid that seeps out of okra pods when you cut them. But nothing.
We were beginning to doubt that these were actually okra leaves. Till we found a few tiny okra pods hiding in the leaves.
But how to use them? Since everything about the purchase had been Asian, I was now tending that way. Plus, we (well, TeenGirl) were looking for something meatless for dinner. And we had some big eggplants that were starting to deflate in the fridge.
So I came on the idea of a sort of eggplant – chickpea Indian sort of thing. I thought I had seen some things like that on a few Indian blogs. And sure enough, on the Mahanandi blog there was a wonderful-looking recipe for Baingan Chole – an Eggplant Chickpea sort of thicken stew. Served with rice or chapattis.
And from the looks of the pictures – just crying for a little green to round it out. Oh such a presumptuous ego to change a perfectly good recipe, without having even tried it, with some greens that have never been tried either. A nutty idea if ever I heard one.
Well, the chole is easy enough. Because we have made a few things over the last few months, most of the spices were on hand. And I always have chickpeas on hand. So off I went. And it looked pretty good. Note that the chole uses pureed chickpeas as a thickening agent already. Had I made this before, I might have paused here. But no.
Not knowing the power of the okra greens, I removed the leaves from the stems, and chopped all the leaves in a rough chiffonade. It was A LOT of greens. We had bought one pound of greens, minus the stems still left a ton of green leaves. But I figured that like spinach, it would cook down quickly.
Well, it did cook down. First to goo. Then to glue. The okra leaves – in my opinion – have a stronger thickening effect than the okra pods. This stuff drank up chicken broth like crazy. Eventually almost doubling the volume of the stew as I tried to keep some level of moisture by adding more chicken broth. It was like some kind of ‘I Love Lucy’ episode. The more broth we added, the thicker and bigger it all got.
The resulting dish was now greenish, which is not in and of itself bad. A little unusual, maybe, but not bad. And thick thick thick thick thick. The okra leaves, like the okra pods, have a sort of slimy thickening effect. Very different from corn starch or a flour roux, for example. Similar to the effect of the pods. Some might not enjoy that effect.
But I over did it. Not knowing how to use the leaves, what proportions, etc. In retrospect, the dish would have been GREATLY improved, even good, if I had reduced the amount of leaves to just a handful or two, and possibly even left out the pureed chickpeas, letting the okra leaves be the sole thickening agent. That would have retained the character of the original dish, with some nice green highlights and a pleasant consistency.
I am sure – absolutely positive – that there are some dishes out there, waiting to be made, that currently use some sort of starch as a thickener, that would benefit tremendously from the use of okra leaves instead. Just not this one.
I’ll keep my eyes open!
The basic recipe is located here:
Baingan Chole (Eggplant-Chickpeas)
As mentioned, my only modification was the addition of the chopped okra leaves at the very end of the cooking, plus the additional chicken broth. My recomendation - don't change a great recipe! But try 1 to 2 handfuls of okra leaves added at the end and cooked for 10 minutes, and eliminate the pureed chickpeas from the recipe. I think that would work well.
Tags : Recipes : Cooking : Okra Leaves : Eggplant : Vegetarian : Food and Dining