What Is this Okra You Speak Of?

 What Is this Okra You Speak Of?Sometimes I feel like the official spokesperson for unloved vegetables.  I implore you to adopt this lonely kohlrabi!  And please find a dish for that suffering daikon radish.  But I can’t help myself, and there’s yet another vegetable that deserves your undivided attention, and that vegetable is okra.  BRING. IT. ON.trans What Is this Okra You Speak Of?

Okra has something of an acquired taste.  And if poorly prepared it is not tasty.  But when cooked right, this stuff is damn good.  For those unfamiliar, it is the shape and size of a small jalapeno, but a little fuzzy and a little more geometric, in that when you cut it crosswise, the pieces look like star fruit.  Okra is green or deep purple, and I prefer the purple slightly but for no real reason. The outside has the texture of a tender pea pod, and that pod is filled with little seeds. There’s lots of texture (tenderness and crunch) and, shall we say, mouthfeel, for the oenophiles out there.  It’s a sweet, tender, totally unique veggie, but the thing that earns okra so many upturned noses is that it can be slimy when improperly cooked.  I’m not selling this, am I?  My point is that if you know what you’re doing, cooking okra can be simple and crazy delicious.  I’m here to help.

The key to keeping the slime away is to not add more water.  The drier the cooking method, the better.  I love roasting pretty much anything, but okra takes especially well to this.  My “recipe” involves whole okra (no trimming, no chopping), olive oil, a generous sprinkle of paprika and cumin, and a dash of cayenne.  Toss, spread on a baking sheet, roast at 400° for about 20 minutes or until very tender.  Bam.  A lot of the moisture bakes off, so the spices coat the okra like a dry rub.  These are perfect for snacking: I like to pick them up by the stem and bite the rest of the veggie off from it.  A more civilized person might use a fork and knife.  Pff.

A slightly (ever so slightly) more complex recipe is one I learned at the farmers’ market from one of the vendors who was doing a demo.  For this, I give you a real recipe.  See below.  Okra season and tomato season are fading away, so get on this one, stat!

 

Simply, Okra and Tomatoes

 

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 pound okra, chopped crosswise into 1-inch pieces, stems discarded

1 large tomato, diced

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

 

  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat and add garlic to pan, stirring, until golden.
  2. Add okra and cook, stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes until the okra starts to soften.
  3. Add the tomatoes and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.  Add salt to taste (about a pinch).
  4. Cook for 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until the vinegar has evaporated (or reduced, in fancy talk) and the okra is tender.

Freya Bellin writes the food column for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include The Other Comfort FoodCooking Social, and Never Too Many Tomatoes.