The okra sizzled angrily today when I threw it into the flaming yellow mustard oil. Was it the oil, or was it me towards which this rage was directed?
Usually, I use peanut oil, which is less intense in flavor and even milder in colour. It offends no one, its warm, nutty aroma winning over friends easily. Everyone loves peanuts. Peanut oil embraces food lovingly, knowing its place is in the background, and happily surrendering the center place to the hero, the vegetable, pulse or meat.
Mustard oil, however, well, it’s a different story. It is strong and obnoxious, unabashedly releasing a pungent smell when the cap is taken off the bottle, and thrusting it forward even more when heated. Boldly yellow, it stains the finger, leaving a lusty feeling behind, to assert it was there. Feisty. Brazen. Love it or hate it, nothing in between. It competes with the food, pushing to the front of the crowd of tastes to be noticed, applauded, celebrated. It hogs the spotlight, wanting to be talked about, idolized, and glorified.
That’s why the okra ranted like a madman. Put in contact with the aggressive mustard oil, it felt assaulted. Betrayal! Where was the reliable, mild-mannered peanut companion? Instead, the okra was fighting for its place with this offensive upstart. When it hit the hot wok and brushed against the oil, the okra knew it was in for a fight. Like a furious bulldog, the mustard oil was all over it, trying to pin it down, subdue whatever individuality the okra had.
No wonder the okra was spitting rage. As the fight ensued between the two, I did get the distinct feeling that this noisy, hateful protest was directed towards me, the master who had even allowed the mustard oil into the kitchen in the first place.