Friday night Super-Curry with Okra: a CardioKit recipe

Comfort foods are important but can also be targeted to health

After a hard week many of us look forward to our Friday night take-away curry. There appears to be a perception that comfort foods and healthy foods are mutually exclusive — not always true! Irrespective of the healthy ingredients, this is genuinely one of the all-time favourite curries at Cardiologist’s Kitchen. It’s versatile and the basic base-sauce can be combined with different meat or vegetables. This version pairs beautiful, clean, white-fish with rich curry and Okra for a delicious contrast.

It’s important to emphasise a point here— a truly healthy diet has balance. Those of us who love food and eating but are equally passionate about health have a unique perspective. Problems occur if you become too evangelical about health concepts as this becomes restrictive, effects your quality of life, is usually inconvenient and ultimately non-sustainable. This classically results in a pattern of indulgent binges interspersed with periods of meaningless and completely unscientific ‘detox’ to dilute feelings of guilt. A better approach is to predominantly follow an evidence-based, targeted healthy diet (that will protect you from pre-illness or subsequent illness) and this will give you license to properly enjoy the occasional treat. If you can combine the treat in the form of a healthy comfort food then that is the ultimate.

The final point to make about healthy “comfort foods” is that you don’t have to replace every single ingredient with a healthy ingredient. Again we regard this to be too evangelical and non-sustainable. Attempts to do this (and we have seen plenty of this from the ‘lifestyle’ or ‘diet’ communities) always result in eating disappointment and you’re going to crave the real deal. Remember that the bonus here is that you are trading-up your unhealthy fast food curry for a version which is high in fresh, healthy ingredients and over time that gives you a huge health advantage. It also gives you license to choose a little white rice over brown if you like (for example) but you are going to limit the amount.

Now lets talk about the key “hidden veg” in this curry — Okra. Okra (or Ladies Fingers) is high in fibre — 100g contains 3.2g of dietary fibre. But Okra is specifically high in soluble (viscous) fibre which is particularly important in cardiovascular health. Making sure you eat foods with soluble fibre is a key strategy to improving your cholesterol profile, particularly if you have been told you have high cholesterol or need Statin treatment. 15–20g of soluble fibre per day has been shown to reduce LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol by 5–10% above and beyond that achieved through other dietary changes alone. There is also an association with improved body weight control and blood sugar control (reduced glycaemic index). In general high fibre foods have a reduced energy density when compared with high fat or refined carbohydrate diets as a result of added diet bulk.

You can see that Okra is high in soluble ‘viscous’ fibre because it has a ‘gummy’ sticky juice when cut. Some people don’t like this ‘slimy’ texture but don’t worry when cooked slowly in the curry (or vey quickly in stir-frys) it dissolves and simply leaves a beautiful texture. There are other vegetables which are high in these viscous fibres (like aubergine or ‘Egg plant’) and we will expand on this in other posts.

 

For the curry base sauce (serves 4):

 

  • 2 teaspoons of black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons of crushed coriander seeds
  • 3 red or green chillies
  • 4 cm of fresh ginger
  • 3 medium sized onions
  • 3 garlic gloves
  • handful of curry leaves (fresh, dried or frozen)
  • tin of coconut milk
  • tin of tomatoes (plum or chopped — Cirio brand recommended)
  • rapeseed oil
  • salt and black pepper to season

Other ingredients in this version:

  • okra 150g (large handful)
  • sugar snap peas or green beans 150g (large handful)
  • firm, meaty white fish — beautiful brill in this case. Monkfish or snapper are good alternatives. Also works really well with chicken pieces

  1. Heat a splash of rapeseed oil in a large pan and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop turn the heat to a medium hot setting and add the fenugreek seeds, crushed coriander seeds, finely grated ginger and curry leaves. Stir for around 30 seconds to awaken the spices.
  2. Now add your chopped onions, garlic and chillies (remove the seeds if you don’t want too much heat or add extra if you like it hot). These can be pulsed together in a food processor for convenience. Season now with a little salt, black pepper and add the turmeric. Cook until the onions are staring to caramelise and are a sweet light brown.
  3. Now add the tinned tomatoes and turn up the heat. Fill the tin with water (rinsing out any remaining tomato) and add this to the sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes and then add the tin of coconut milk.
  4. This is now your basic, versatile sauce which will be ready after about 20–30minutes of gentle simmering when it should have a thick, saucy consistency (and depending on what else you put in). Taste and add a little more seasoning until you are happy. At this stage you can add your ‘hidden veg’. If you fancy a chicken curry then add chopped breast or thigh meat straight into the sauce and cook all together.
  5. For this version we have added chopped okra and after 15 minutes the chopped sugar snap peas for another 15 minutes cooking (so they still have some crunch when served).
  6. The fish can be directly poached in the sauce and should take around 15 minutes. On this occasion and because brill is an amazing fish we have pan-cooked the fillet in a splash of olive oil with a little seasoning and finished with a squeeze of lemon juice. When topped on the curry you get the contrast of the clean fish flavour with the rich curry sauce — amazing!

PS. Curry leaves give a fantastic flavour to the curry but you may not like the leaf texture in the finished dish —if so, you can pick them out when served. Its pretty easy but try them — its up to you.

 

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