Pan-Fried Okra

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No matter where I live — Edinburgh, New York, Lyon — I crave the tastes of my homeland, North Carolina. Although there’s no way of obtaining Cheerwine or hushpuppies over here, I know that if I can locate an Indian grocer, chances are good I’ll be able to feed at least one of my cravings.

Most Indian grocery stores carry a variety of imported produce, from bitter gourd to fresh chilies, and nearly always okra. I’d been hunting around Edinburgh for weeks for a good Indian shop when lo and behold, my boss moved in right above one. I’ve been getting my okra (and chaat, and paratha) fix weekly ever since.

Although I can eat okra any way you can cook it, my favorite style is straight up fried. Sure, it effectively neutralizes all the health benefits, but I’ll be real — I don’t eat okra because it’s healthy. I eat it because it’s delicious! I slice the pods in rounds, wash them, and dredge them all in cornmeal. Then I heat up some corn or vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet till just before it smokes and plop the whole mess in. Plenty of salt and pepper, fry till it’s golden brown and eat hot. (I usually can’t wait to actually serve it at the table — I’m scooping up morsels with my bare hands!)

Try it with any grilled meat and some sliced ripe tomatoes. Or, if you can’t control yourself like me, just eat it by hand like popcorn.

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Pan-Fried Okra

Ingredients:
1 lb okra, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds (Discard ends and tips.)
1-2 cups yellow cornmeal, enough to coat the okra
vegetable oil for frying

Directions:
1. Heat the oil on high in a heavy cast iron skillet. (If you don’t have cast iron, use the heaviest-bottomed pan you have.)

2. While the oil is getting nice and hot, slice your okra and wash in a colander. Dump the cornmeal and work with your hands until each piece is well coated.

3. When the oil is good and hot, almost smoking, dump in the okra all at once. Stir around with a spatula or wooden spoon so that all pieces cook evenly. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Tip: More salt = better taste!)

4. When okra is golden brown, remove from pan and serve hot.

If you want to spice it up, try adding cayenne or chili powder to the cornmeal, or sprinkle on top as the okra cooks.

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Tasting Notes: Balvenie

As a member of the Edinburgh University Water of Life Society, I am lucky enough to have some really nice whisky on a regular basis for a much cheaper price than I’d ever find elsewhere. Most weeks there’s a theme — Sherry and Chocolate for Valentine’s Day, or International Whiskies, or — the best so far — five different batches of Aberlour A’bunadh. Other weeks, we’re visited by ambassadors from various distilleries and bottlers. In the past year, I’ve enjoyed lovely tastings from Wemyss Malts, Bruichladdich, Glenfiddich, and last night (for the second time this month, actually) Balvenie.

The beginning of a very good evening

Starting with a ‘welcome dram’ of Monkey Shoulder (always a nice drinkable delight) and progressing through the Balvenie range, Andy described the history of the distillery, its innovations, and especially the genius of one man, Mr David Stewart, Malt Master for Balvenie and Glenfiddich. David is responsible for coming up with nifty little ideas like finishing whisky in a different cask than the one it’s aged in — hence beautiful drams like the 21 year old Portwood.

Balvenie Signature
Andy described this as his ‘quaffing whisky’ and I quite agree. It’s not too complex, goes down like juice, and could easily be enjoyed during a lively party.

Nose: Honey, grapes, grass, a bit of brine.

Palate: Very honeyed and sweet with some light dried fruits (more dried apricot than raisin) and citrus and a nice silky mouthfeel.

Finish: Pleasantly balanced with oak and spice.

Balvenie Single Barrel 15 (Cask # 1566)
Nose: Honey, of course, and vanilla, pear, apple, hints of gorse.

Palate: Lovely spicy-sweet interplay with vanilla, honey, hard fruits.

Finish: Very clean with the best notes of spice saved for the end, and just a hint of coconut.

Balvenie Doublewood
Andy called this a ‘gateway whisky’ — the kind of whisky that gets novices hooked. It starts its life in bourbon casks and finishes in sherry — hence the name.

Nose: Deep, rich, full of cooked apples, figs, bread pudding, butter, cinnamon.

Palate: Well fruited just as the nose suggests, but balanced by the rich vanilla of the bourbon casks.

Finish: Continuing the sweet warmth of the palate, it tapers off ever so gently.

Portwood 21
As I mentioned, this whisky (some of which is likely older than 21 years) is finished for several months in port ‘pipes’. It’s stunning.

Nose: Full of grapes and fresh rain, notes of plum.

Palate: Fruity with plum, grape, and a wee bit of rhubarb. Unbelievably silky mouthfeel.

Finish: I never wanted it to end, and it nearly didn’t. Goes on forever with a delicate nuttiness.

After enjoying all those beautiful whiskies, what better way to end the night than with a mysteriously green non-whisky concoction?

‘The Seaweed Experience’?

My friend Calum delights in buying obscure spirits from a German auction website. Evidently Celp is quite popular among the Danish. It’s put out by Lagavulin and actually doesn’t taste half bad, for all that it appears to be Kermit the Frog’s bathwater. I’m sure you’re not surprised to find out that it’s heavily peated, very briny and oily and tastes like a clam salad. You might be surprised to learn that I actually thought it quite nice! Not something I’d drink often, of course, but the kind of spirit I could see myself pouring on a chilly day when I need reminding of beaches and summertime…

Róisin by Williams Bros. Brewing Co.

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Since I’m only in Scotland for a year, I’ve made it a point to try as many different foods and drinks as I can before I leave. Most of this stuff is going to be completely unavailable stateside, and although I fear developing an impossible addiction, I can’t help but follow my whims and buy all these tempting concoctions.

Williams Brothers Brewing Company is one of those potential addictions which I’ll be unable to satiate next year. I’ve tried at least four or five of their beers so far and every single one has been outstanding. This was the latest, and my favorite so far.

Made with the tayberry, which is a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry, it tastes like a hoppy version of grapefruit soda, very fizzy and slightly sweet with that bitter tinge of rind. And isn’t the color gorgeous? I’m a sucker for pink drinks.

Being an American, and despite the frigid temperature, I chilled this baby before drinking, and luckily, that’s what Williams Bros. recommends. Crisp, light, fruity, and only 4.2% ABV, this will be a perfect summer beer — if Scotland ever has a summer!

What Tastes Good on a Chilly April Day

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Hot 'n spicy!

I currently live in Edinburgh with my husband of less than a year. I’m doing a Masters degree, and he’s along for the ride. We love it here.

One thing we love is the popular pastime among the extremely fit Scots known as hill walking. Such an utterly understated term, yet so aptly Scottish: hill walking is just that, walking on hills, which is more or less the entirety of Scotland. These walks often involve what the guidebooks refer to as “light scrambling”; one prepares for them by donning hiking boots (not sneakers or trainers), waterproofs (since the sky can open up literally at any moment), and a pack full of necessaries such as a map, compass, first aid kit, and adequate food if you get stuck on the side of the hill and have to wait for mountain rescue. Avid hill walkers use walking sticks which look like ski poles, and at least half of the people we see out walking are over the age of 50. (Yes, they sometimes make me feel inadequate.)

Nice place for a leisurely stroll.

This morning, despite the country-wide “downpour warning”, we woke up too early for a Saturday and set out for the Pentland hills. They’re probably the smallest hills one could walk and still call it hill walking, but I have to tell you, even after training for and running a half-marathon this spring, those hills kicked my butt. Three hours and I almost collapsed into a heap when we boarded the bus.

Because this is Scotland, spring is basically just a random cycle of cloud, sun, hail, rain, wind, and more cloud. The temperature rarely rises above 10 degrees Celsius (about 50 Fahrenheit) and feels colder thanks to the wind and damp. Although we wore the right clothes (layers!) and worked up quite a sweat on our walk, I was still slightly blue by the time we got home.

My favorite way to warm up is through hot beverages, and nothing is better than real chai to restore feeling in my hands and a kick of spice to my sinuses. I always make chai on the stove, using real sugar and milk and a secret masala (spice mixture) courtesy of my best friend’s mother.

Give this a try on the next blustery day, and feel free to adjust the sugar, milk and spice measurements to suit your fancy.

Homemade Hot Chai

Chai is the Indian word for tea. All those menus which call it “chai tea” are just restating the obvious. You can find chai masala (which means a mixture of spices) in an Indian or specialty market, or you can make your own using a spice or coffee grinder and any or all of the following ingredients:

  • cinnamon
  • cardamom
  • cloves
  • ginger
  • black pepper

Or whatever other spices you like!

In a saucepan over medium heat, add 2 black teabags, 6-8 cups of water and 1/4 cup of sugar. Add 1-2 teaspoons of chai masala. Bring to a boil.

When boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer at least ten minutes. Taste and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of milk, then continue simmering for three minutes. Turn off heat and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of chai masala. Serve in mugs.