Crispy pan-fried Okra, Chettinad Style (Vegan)

Chettinad Masala belonging to the Chettinad region of Southern India is quintessentially Indian in its complexity, and specific blend of spices. It’s probably one of the most aromatic and robust flavor combinations of southern indian food.

They are great to use as powder in stir frys, as marinade or as a flavor paste ground with coconut for curries. I pre-make a good sized batch of the masala powder and store in an airtight container that can be used upto 3-4 months.

Although the spice blend is popularly used predominantly in meat based dishes, I try and utilize them in as many vegetarian recipes as possible. One of my favorite recipes is combining them with Okra; the intense flavors of the spices blend beautifully with crispy okra.

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Ingredients for the Chettinad masala powder:
serves 4

4 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp whole black pepper
2 dried bay leaves
5 cloves
2 whole cardamom pods (or 1/4 tsp cardamom seeds)
1 cinnamon stick
4 dried red chillies
1 tsp poppy seeds (optional: I didn’t use any)

Ingredients for the Okra Recipe:
serves 4
2 pounds okra, washed and chopped into 1″ pieces
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp asafoetida powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp mustard seeds
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
10-12 fresh curry leaves, chopped
1 tsp tamarind paste
1 1/2 tbsp coarse kosher salt
1/2 cup chettinad masala powder

Method:
Chettinad masala powder:
Heat a saute pan over medium heat.  Add all the measured spices except red chillies and poppy seeds (if you’re using them). The chillies burn easily and need only a few seconds of toasting, so we’ll add them last.

Dry roast all the spices over medium heat for 6-8 minutes. Keep stirring them gently every minute or so to ensure even toasting, and avoid any burns on the bottom.

After 8 minutes, they should be golden brown and well toasted. The spices release an immense aroma since the toasting releases their oils.

Turn off heat, and add the red chillies. Toss together and the residual heat is enough for the chillies to get toasted.

Set aside to cool, and grind them down to a fine powder. Store in an airtight container.

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Method:
Crispy Okra:
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat with measured canola oil. After a minute of pre-heating add mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Once they start spluttering, add in asafoetida and turmeric powders. Fry for a few seconds.

Add chopped garlic, and curry leaves. Saute until the garlic softens,about 2 minutes.

Add the thinly sliced onions and cook until the onions soften, and start to turn golden brown, about 5-6 minutes. Mix in 1/2 tbsp coarse kosher salt.

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In the meanwhile, heat a separate  wide-bottomed non stick pan over medium-high heat. The pan should be large enough to ensure an evenly crispy okra.

Add 1 tbsp canola oil in the pan. Place about half of the chopped okra in an even layer. Don’t overcrowd the pan and make sure there is one even layer with every piece touching the pan. Let cook for 5 minutes and then flip the pieces over and cook for 5 more minutes.

The okra will get golden brown and crispy with none of the unpleasant goop.Remove the okra and set aside.

Repeat these steps in batches until all the remaining okra have been crisped. Set aside all the cooked okra.

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Back to the onions;
to the cooked onions, add 1/2 cup of prepared chettinad masala powder, a tbsp coarse kosher salt, and a tsp of tamarind paste. Mix thoroughly.

Add all the crisped okra and toss everything together gently.

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Let this mixture cook uncovered over medium heat for another 6-8 minutes until all the flavors have combined well together and the okra is completely cooked.

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Serve hot with more fresh curry leaves on top.

This makes a perfect side for dhal, roti, or rice. Serve with some fresh yogurt or raita for a perfectly balanced meal.

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