I decided to blog about this particular recipe in the mistaken belief that this was a childhood dish. Turned out that Okra is not an ingredient I grew up with in Indonesia, and this was further confirmed when Mum gave me a puzzled look when I asked how often we ate okra when I was growing up.
Turned out that this particular plant is more common in Singapore, Malaysia and India dishes. Sambal Belachan, the base sauce of this recipe and its variations can be found in South East Asia. The regional difference depends on how sweet or sour you make this sambal. So to my Malaysian and Singaporean friend this is probably something that you grow up with.
That false sense of nostalgia did not stop me from trying to grow the plant last year. First rule of growing okra, make sure you grow it when it’s warm, otherwise it does not thrive. Miraculously the plant hibernated through winter and to my utter shock started growing fruit this summer. I harvested my first batch a couple of days ago and the second rule of growing okra is to pick them when they are still tender and about 2 inches in length. The longer they grow the more likely you are to chew on bristle rather than pod.
This recipe was taken and adopted from SBS’s Food Safari website. It is a very mild, tomatoey sambal and is great eaten as a relish or as a base for stiry fry for seafood or other vegetables. I’ve adapted this recipe to make it vegetarian friendly with my notes in italics below.
- 500g Okra sliced to 1 cm in lenght
- 80 ml(¼ cup) peanut oil (20ml for the okra)
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tsp crushed ginger
- 3–4 red bird’s eye chillies (or to taste), finely chopped
- 1 tbsp belacan (substitute with vegetarian shrimp paste)
- 3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce (Lee Kum Kee’s vegetarian stir fry sauce is the veg substitute for this)
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp fish sauce (you can find vegetarian fish sauce in most Thai grocery store)
- 2limes, juiced
- 2 tsp tamarind paste
- 2 tbsp pounded palm sugar
- Heat the oil in a wok or deep frying pan until hot.
- Pound the garlic, ginger and chilli with the belachan.
- Add the onion and cook for 5–6 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.
- Add the belacan mixture and cook for 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Stir in the tomato, until well combined.
- Add the sauces and lime juice and stir until well combined, then add the tamarind paste and palm sugar. Stir to combine, then remove heat and allow to cool.
- In a separate pan, stir fry the okra. Add the belachan paste slowly to the okra and continue frying until the okra softens.
- You may want to add extra salt as the vegetarian belachan is not as pungent as the non veg version, the tamarind can also be quite overpowering without the added salt.
• Belacan sambal will keep refrigerated in an airtight jar for two weeks.