Love it or hate it, most people have strong feelings about okra. Those who dislike the vegetable (also known as ladies' fingers) usually cite its slimy texture. But it doesn't have to be that way. Simmering okra for a long time makes it sticky - a quality put to good use in gumbo, giving the dish a thicker texture. But for these recipes, the okra is cooked relatively briefly, so it's less slimy.
Okra with dried chilli and shrimp sambal
There are many types of sambal, a spicy sauce popular in Southeast Asia. This version isn't traditional, it's a hybrid of flavours I like. This recipe makes more sambal than you're likely to need for one dish of okra, but it can be stored in the fridge for several weeks.
I recommend buying Malaysian or Singaporean belacan (fermented shrimp paste), which is drier than the Thai version. And instead of candlenuts - a rich nut with a high fat content that is used to thicken sambal in Malaysia and Singapore - I've substituted macadamias, another high-fat nut that tastes different but is easier to find in Hong Kong.
For the sambal:
30 grams whole dried chillies
30 grams dried shrimp
30 grams belacan
20 grams garlic, peeled
160 grams shallots, peeled
15 grams shelled macadamia nuts
About 30 grams palm sugar
Cooking oil, as needed
For the okra:
500 grams fresh okra, preferably small pods
About 45ml cooking oil
About 80 grams of sambal
Fine sea salt
About 30ml fresh calamansi juice
Pull the stems off the dried chillies and shake out as many seeds as possible. Put the chillies in a bowl, add just enough warm water to cover and leave for 30 minutes to rehydrate. Rehydrate the shrimp by rinsing in water, then covering with hot water. Set aside for 30 minutes. Drain the chillies, discarding the water, and drain the shrimp, reserving the water. Put the belacan on a square of aluminium foil in an unoiled skillet over a medium flame and toast, turning frequently, until the belacan darkens slightly, the fragrance (some would say "stench") intensifies, and it becomes dry and crumbly. Watch it carefully so it doesn't burn. Cool to room temperature.
Put the rehydrated chillies and shrimp, garlic, shallots and macadamia nuts in a blender (preferably a bullet blender), food processor or mortar, and process or pound into a thick, rough paste; it should not be smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add a little of the shrimp soaking liquid. Add the belacan and palm sugar and process (or pound) until just incorporated.
To make the okra, boil a large pot of salted water and blanch the vegetables for 30 seconds. Drain but do not rinse. Blot off the excess moisture with paper towels. As soon as the okra is cool enough to handle, trim and discard the stem ends. Cut the okra into 2cm pieces
Heat a large wok over a high flame. Add the cooking oil and swirl to lightly coat the wok. Add the okra and a sprinkling of salt. Spread out the okra so as much as possible comes into contact with the hot metal, and let it char slightly before stirring and repeating, adding more oil, if needed. Add 80 grams or more of the sambal and stir to lightly coat the okra. Stir-fry for a minute or so, then taste and correct the seasonings, if needed. When the okra is crisp-tender, turn off the flame. Stir in the calamansi juice and serve immediately. Store the leftover sambal in a glass jar, levelling out the surface and covering in a thin layer of oil. It will keep for several weeks in the fridge.
Roasted okra with XO sauce
You can use store-bought XO sauce for this dish or make your own. The latest version of my XO sauce recipe can be found online at scmp.com with my Lunar New Year recipe for pork and oysters in lettuce cups.
500 grams okra, preferably small pods
Cooking oil, as needed
Fine sea salt
About 100 grams XO sauce
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Celsius. Trim off and discard the stem ends from the okra and cut each pod in half lengthways. Put the okra in a bowl, add about 30ml of cooking oil and mix with your hands until very lightly coated; drizzle in more oil, if needed. Season lightly with salt and mix. Spread the okra on a baking tray, cut sides up, and bake for about 10 minutes until the okra is slightly shrivelled and charred in spots, stirring halfway through. Put the okra in a mixing bowl, add the XO sauce and stir to combine. Serve hot or warm.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee
For more recipes, go to scmp.com/topics/recipes