Tucked away in the recesses of the Carmel Market is a guy who caters to the Thai workers, selling all sorts of weird vegetable delights — bumpy gourds, eggplants smaller than olives, yucca roots, foot-long green beans and massive okra, not to mention greens that even he can’t identify. But for now, we’re going to concentrate on the okra — so-called Indian okra.
Local okra tends to be small, like narrow acorns, what we know as the “baladi” kind — an Arabic word that translates usefully as “local.” Now, the problem with okra is that it has to be trimmed, and when you’re dealing with baladi okra, that means nipping the hat off each and every one, when each pod yields only one bite. You can imagine the attraction of the Indian okra — fat, sleek and green, each one as long as my hand.
So, I picked up a handful, about 250 grams, at 20 shekels a kilo. I wanted to do something so special with it that it wound up sitting in my fridge for a week and a half. I had a vague idea of cooking it in coconut, as a curry of sorts. Finally, faced with the prospect of my beautiful okra going brown, I had to give it a go. This is what came out — a relatively simple dish with far fewer spices than most southeast Asian curries. For good measure, I threw in a handful of the itty bitty eggplants I got as well (there they are, in the photo).
You can find the vegetable stand across from Eli Fish (Eli Dagim), amid several meat shops, off the alley that starts between the cheese stand and the greens stand, at your left if you’re coming from Allenby.
For two small servings:
250 grams okra
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 branches of tiny eggplants, or 1-2 small eggplants
1 cup coconut cream
big handful fresh basil leaves
1/2 lemon or lime (about 2 tablespoons of juice. I use the peel as well)
sugar (say, 1/2 teaspoon)
salt (also 1/2 teaspoon)
oil for frying
Remove the stems from the okra and cut into bite-sized pieces. Fry in oil in a thick-bottomed nonstick pot — as the okra cooks, you’ll see the gooey strings beginning to disappear. Once they’re mostly gone, add the crushed garlic and the eggplant, and continue frying so that the garlic can brown a bit.
Now, add the coconut milk, as well as some water to thin it down to the desired consistency. Bring to a boil. Add the lemon juice and some chunks of peel (the colored part, not the white part), the sugar, and the salt. Add the basil and shut the flame.
Serve with rice.