sweet corn and okra purloo with lemongrass, thyme and chinese chives

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I found this recipe on Food 52, and fell in love with its simplicity. A purloo is a traditional southern (US, that is) vegetable stew with smoked meat. Southern cooking is based on the trinity: onions, sweet green peppers, and celery. I did a variation on it, using Thai spur chilies  and Chinese celery. In fact, I took other liberties with this recipe and added lemongrass to it and Chinese chives. Spur chilies are not very hot, instead they add flavor rather than heat to the dish. Chinese celery has very skinny stalks and big leaves. Use the stalks only, as the leaves are very very strong tasting. In Thailand, the leaves are used as a garnish, often combined with scallions and cilantro. Chinese chives resemble scallion but have flat leaves and instead of an onion-y taste, taste faintly of garlic, hence its other name garlic chives. This dish is a mash-up of cuisines, using a mix of local Thai ingredients and Western. It tastes lemon-y, garlicky, and is a hearty meal for two–with leftovers.

Okra and Sweet Corn Purloo with Lemongrass, Thyme, and Chinese Chives (adapted from Food 52)

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 55 minutes
Servings: 4 as a main meal, 6 as a side dish

1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
3 Thai spur chilies sliced on the bias (if desired, seed and devein the chilies for less heat)
1/4 cup Chinese celery stems only, small dice (save the leaves for garnish)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups okra, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch rounds
1 1/2 cups smoked ham cut into 1 inch chunks (I used black pepper ham for flavor)
1/4 cup lemongrass, sliced fine
2 cups sweet corn, cut from the cob (approximately 2 corn on the cob)
1 cup organic short grain rice
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock (or 1 bouillon cube to 2 cups water)
1/2 cup Chinese chives (aka garlic chives), diced fine

Heat the oven to 400° F. Place an oven-proof 3-quart pot over medium heat on the stove top. Add enough oil to the pot to barely coat the bottom.

Cook’s note: I didn’t have an oven-proof pot, so I used a large skillet for this step.

Once the oil is hot add the onion, peppers, and Chinese celery. Season with a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft but not brown.

Add the thyme and garlic. Sauté until it becomes fragrant. Don’t let the garlic brown. Add the okra, ham, lemongrass, and corn. If the pan seems dry add a little more oil. Then add the rice and stir it around to coat the grains with the oil. Add the broth. Stir the ingredients. Bring the broth to a boil. Turn off the heat.

Cook’s note: I transferred the ingredients to a Corningware casserole dish with a lid for this next step.

Cover the dish and slide the whole thing into the oven. Immediately turn the heat down to 325° F.

Set a timer for 35 minutes. At the end of 35 minutes remove the dish from the oven, carefully. Using oven mitts, remove the lid and taste. If you can taste tough grains of rice, stir then cover the dish and put it back in the oven. Cook for an additional 10 minutes. Continue stirring and cooking in 10 minute increments until the rice is cooked. In my oven this took 55 minutes.

Taste and adjust any seasonings as necessary. If desired, lightly sauté the chopped chives in a little oil. Add the chopped chives and fresh celery leaves to the top of the purloo, and serve.

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