Friday, April 8, 2011

Exotic and Aromatic

Okra is one of those ingredients that doesn't seem to pop up on Australian menus very often. Lots of people seem a bit nervous about how to prepare this exotic looking vegetable, however it is eaten all over the world. You will find it in all kinds of cuisines - particularly in Africa, South America and the Carribean. Okra is actually related to the hibiscus flower, growing in particularly well in in hot climates. I really love the slightly herbaceous flavour and the soft, yeilding texture of the okra pods and they really soak up any spice or flavouring that you cook with them.

One of my favourite ways to serve okra is with a heavily aromatic mixture of spices and minced beef. The dish packs a huge flavour punch and is beautiful served with nutty brown rice. Now is the perfect time to cook okra, as it is in season and easy to find. Choose pods that are bright green and firm - smaller pods will be more tender than the larger ones, so I tend to go for the smaller size.

The generous use of spices in this dish marry so beautifully with the okra, and the result is a delicious exotic but super easy dish to prepare. If you have never tried okra before, this could be a nice introduction.....

Aromatic Beef with Okra

You will need: 300g minced beef, about 10 pieces of okra, 1 red onion, 1/2 red capsicum, 1 medium zucchini, 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1 cup beef stock, 3 cloves garlic finely chopped, 1 red chilli finely chopped, 1 tin diced tomatoes (choose a good quality Italian brand), a handful of fresh dill, 2 teaspoons cumin powder, 2 teaspoons coriander powder, 2 teaspoons sweet paprika, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Method: Slice the okra diagonally, so that each piece becomes two pieces. In a bowl, combine the okra with the vinegar and a few pinces of salt. Mix it through well with your hands and then set the okra aside.

Chop the red onion, zucchini and capsicum into small cubes. Heat a splash of olive oil in a pan and add the onion. Cook on a moderate heat until it begins to soften. Add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, paprika, chilli and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes until the aroma starts to release.

Add the minced beef and cook very thoroughly until it is browned. Drain the vinegar from the okra. Add the okra, zucchini and capsicum to the pan, combine and cook for another few minutes. Finally, add the tomatoes and the beef stock. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Also feel free to ramp up the chilli for an extra spicy version.

Just before serving, stir through the fresh dill. Serve with rice (I prefer brown rice for this, it has a great nutty flavour)


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