Have You Tried Okura Ohitashi? A Japanese Ladies Finger Salad
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Ladies Finger or Okra – or Bhindi as we know it better in India – has a bit of a bad reputation, and it's not hard to see why. When cooked improperly, okra can be slimy and unpleasant. This sliminess is actually due to a compound called mucilage, which is released when the okra is cut or cooked. Some people find this texture off-putting, but others love it. It's all a matter of personal preference.

In Japan though, okra is a common ingredient in many dishes, and one of the ways it's prepared is in Okura Ohitashi. When most people think of Japanese food, they probably think of sushi but it's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Japanese cuisine. Okura Ohitashi dish involves blanching the okra briefly, then serving it in a broth made from dashi (a stock made from dried fish and seaweed), soy sauce, and vinegar. The result is a dish that's both refreshing and savoury, with a complex flavour profile that's hard to describe.

Ohitashi is a traditional Japanese dish that involves blanching vegetables (most commonly leafy greens, such as spinach or kale) and then marinating them in a savoury sauce. The name "ohitashi" comes from the Japanese word "hitasu," which means to "soak" or "submerge." Beyond its technical aspects, Ohitashi has a deeper meaning in Japanese culture, as it is a symbol of hospitality and respect. Serving Ohitashi to guests is seen as a way of welcoming them and showing them that they are valued and appreciated.

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When made with okra, this dish is all about balance: the sliminess of the okra is offset by the savoury broth, the sweetness of the soy sauce, and the tanginess of the vinegar. It's a dish that's surprisingly complex and deeply satisfying, and it's a testament to the creativity and ingenuity of Japanese cuisine.

The key to making Okura Ohitashi without ending up with a slimy mess is all in preparation. First, you'll want to choose the freshest okra you can find. Look for pods that are bright green and firm, with no signs of browning or wilting. Next, you'll want to blanch the okra briefly in boiling water, then shock it in ice water to stop the cooking process. This will help to reduce the amount of mucilage that's released.

Once the okra is blanched, it's time to make the broth. Start by combining dashi, soy sauce, and vinegar in a pot, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Let it cook for a few minutes to allow the flavours to meld together, then strain out any solids. The result should be a clear, savoury broth that's packed with umami.

To serve, simply arrange the blanched okra in a bowl, and pour the hot broth over the top. You can garnish the dish with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds or thinly sliced scallions if you like. The end result is a dish that's both beautiful and delicious, and that showcases the unique qualities of okra in a way that's both surprising and satisfying