When a Recipe Fails: Okra in Peanut Sauce
I bought a book a few weeks ago called "Cooking from Cape to Cairo". I am in love with the African continent and love the cultures and foods, therefore I thought that this would be a great learning experience for me. My husband was born and raised in South Africa, but he is "Afrikaans", he is a descendant of European settlers (in his case, from Scotland), so his "traditions" as foreign as they may be to me, don't feel as foreign as truly African traditions.
A beautiful vegetable that I got to meet this week: okra. It is a very popular vegetable in many African countries. I got to know about it because I bought a book called "Cooking from Cape To Cairo", and decided to start recreating some of their recipes. This one is very small but you are supposed to buy the very green ones that are about 10cms. long. . . . #foodphotography #foodphotographyprops #photographysoul #photographyislifee #photographylover #foodphotography #foodstyling #onthetable #eeeeeats #beautifulcuisines #buzzfeast #huffposttaste #heresmyfood #yahoofood #lifeandthyme #tastemade #rslove #f52grams #feedfeed #eattheworld #thekitchn #foodblogfeed #forkyeah #tastingtable #mycommontable #buzzfeedtasty #darkphotography #foodpics #foodshare #foodphoto
I had a look at this book and of course, I noticed lots of ingredients that I have never seen in my life. I asked my husband and he said some of these were also new to him. I marked down the ones I thought would be tasty, and also the ones with exotic ingredients: one such ingredient was okra. The recipe is originally from Zimbabwe, so it had that extra dash of exotic that I love so much. This was the first time in my life I was learning about okra, and when I saw it at the supermarket (it is not as easy to find as one might think) I bought a good bunch and got ready to make okra in peanut sauce. What could possibly go wrong? I have a recipe, from a book, no less, so all is good.
The recipe was very straight forward and the book didn't have any instructions as to how to cook the okra itself, except to heat water to a boiling point and add the okra and bicarbonate of soda, then cook for 10 minutes and add tomatoes. There was a note mentioning what a popular vegetable okra is throughout Africa, but nothing else.
As I was cooking I noticed how the concoction was looking very strange! So many bubbles that I decided it was because of the bicarbonate of soda. After the 10 recommended cooking time of 10 minutes, I added the crushed peanuts, mixed with a bit of water (as per the recipe) and I made the executive decision to stop cooking it at the 20-minute mark (the recipe said 15 minutes). Now it was time to examine the stew, and, god help me, what is this gooeyness? I thought either something was wrong, or some people really like to eat gross things!
The recipe suggested accompanying the okra with "vhuswa", which a type of porridge made out of maize meal; this is something I have seen and eat, and I also like it, plus is very easy to make: just boil water and add the maize meal. I love it with butter!
Anyway, after this giant fiasco, I decided to do my homework and research how on earth one should cook okra. To my surprise, there is a huge process behind it; not just boil it in water with bicarbonate of soda. As it happens, the okra is covered in small hairs that shall be removed. You must clean each and every one individually and then let it rest for a bit on vinegar to get rid of the goo. I was very disappointed as I followed all the instructions, the recipe comes in a book available around the world, and it got me thinking that it is just irresponsible to put recipes out there assuming everybody knows the ingredients, or how to prepare them, as in this case, it almost a ritual to prepare it!
So as disappointing as this experience was, it taught me several things: First, okra is a very photogenic vegetable; second, I'm not going to be like the author of this book. I will research ingredients and I'll tell people if this might or might be available in their area. If there are special cooking instructions, I'll let them know as well. Reading the book made me feel like the author was writing only for the people she knew; perhaps the success of the book took her by surprise, and she didn't think that someone from a completely different background would attempt to recreate her recipes. Let's give her the benefit of the doubt, and stay tuned, because although this was a mess, I made a dessert, from this book as well, that was utterly delicious!
This also reminds me of another failure I had for which I don't have photographic proof: I attempted to make a lemon pie from a recipe I found online, and it was another disaster. The recipe was half-translated from Italian and left so many details out. Please don't do that. You are not helping anybody by doing that. I ended up looking for another lemon pie recipe on Pinterest, and that's how I know of all the things left out. Regardless, it was too late, I was tired and my lemon pie looked horrible, and not at all edible!
But in any case, here is how this recipe should have been done:
Okra in Peanut Sauce
For the Okra and the Peanut Sauce
- 250 grams sliced okra.
- 1 large tomato, grated.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- 75 ml. pounded roasted peanuts.
For the Vhuswa:
- 1 liter water.
- 2 cups maize-meal.
Takes , serves 5.
To Prepare the Okra:
- Do not wash the okra until the moment of cooking, as water enhances the sliminess.
- Let it sit at room temperature for a while.
- Cut the okra in big chunks to avoid the slime.
- Pre-cook the okra by itself at a very high temperature (do not boil).
- Add the tomato, salt and pepper and cook for further 20 minutes.
- Mix the peanuts with a little bit of water and add them to the okra.
- Cook for further 15 minutes.
- Bring water to the boil and slowly add the maize-meal.
- Stir until smooth.
- Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring constantly.
I told my husband that I was glad I tried this for the first time at home. I don't think this is the way this is done, I can't imagine someone actually enjoying the slime, and people on Instagram have told me that it tastes way better fried.
Have you had a similar experience? Is there a recipe, or anything else you have attempted that had catastrophic results? What is your experience with okra? Let me know in the comments!