Chef Notes: Okra

Chef Notes: Okra

A recent foray back to my birthplace reintroduced me to a largely overlooked vegetable. Not overlooked in the American south but certainly in most of the north and definitely in Connecticut. I grew up picking, cooking, and eating okra, but it’s been many years since it’s been a regular staple, partly because it’s hard to come by but also because I thought the only way I liked it prepared was pan fried and any kind of frying has become evil. On this trip to Alabama I was persuaded to try other preparations and discovered that, if picked young and prepared correctly, okra is quite delicious even when sauted, pickled, grilled, or baked. This is prime okra season which means you can probably find it at that specialty, all organic, grocery store where you can spend your entire paycheck just putting food on the table or if you’re lucky you’ll run into it at your local farmers market or maybe even a traditional supermarket. okrapost

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scoop on okra is pretty impressive. It’s high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, vitamin C, folate, calcium, potassium, and is an antioxidant.  If you can find okra oil, made from the seeds, it is high in unsaturated fats such as oleic and linoleic acid.  The entire okra plant is edible. You rarely see anything other than the pods being eaten but the leaves can be eaten raw in salads, added to soups, or cooked like dandelion or beet greens.

What was always a turn off to me as a child, particularly in preparations other than fried, was the slimy consistency. This coating is called mucilage and is actually a usable soluble fiber. But it is a little off putting to most. What I’ve discovered is that if you pick small pods (2-3 inches) and prepare them correctly you can minimize or even eliminate the sliminess altogether. Now, thinly slicing, dredging in cornmeal and frying them in bacon fat is an excellent way to do this and believe me it is delicious and something everyone should try and eat once in a while just to remind ourselves of how wonderfully sinful that kind of cooking is. But there are other, healthier ways to dispurse of the slime. The trick is to either cook okra very quickly or to cook it all to pieces.  Also, adding an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice, vinegar, or tomatoes will reduce the slime factor as well. This mucilage will act as a thickener when added to soups or gumbos. There are a million and ten recipes on the internet but a few that I highly recommend trying are:

Pan or deep fried okra (reread the column above to remind your of why)

Pickled okra – awesome in Bloody Mary’s BTW

Asian Stir Fries

Grilled whole & served with a vinaigrette

Coconut curries

Stewed with tomatoes & onions

Gumbo

Ratatouille

Polenta with cheese & okra

Okra Rellenos

Okra Creole

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