Most people cannot believe that I love fresh okra simply because I won’t eat fresh lima beans (affectionately known as lima bullets among my siblings). There are so FEW foods that I will not eat because I will try anything ~ I suppose that I am fearless when it comes to food. I feel bad for food ‘babies’ as how do you know you don’t/won’t like something if you don’t try it? Goes for anything in life, really.
Okra is a foolproof heat-loving tropical crop that I grow from seed every year – just needs heat and humidity. It is a misunderstood vegetable and a beautiful plant. Okra is injured easily by frost but I do tend to tire of harvesting it. I do leave it in the ground though for ornamental purposes. The okra plant (Abelmoschus esculentus- even the name is exotic) has gorgeous hibiscus-like flowers, huge cannibis looking leaves and textured pods that can grow monstrous in size.
You can’t harvest them to eat when the pods are huge as they are fibrous and woody but make a terrific decoration in floral designs ~ especially spray painted!
The plant can grow to heights that are difficult to reach unless you are tall like me; however, there are dwarf varieties available for the practical gardener. The spiny leaves of course give me a rash just like tomato plants but the vegetable is worth the itching. The pods do freeze easily. Just place them in a freezer bag, get all the air out and throw them in that section. DO NOT USE a vacuum sealer if you want to freeze it. When raw, okra is 90% water so you will not get a good seal when the machine tries to remove the moisture. I don’t bother to blanch the pods either. Plus it is a great source of calcium so use it year round as not many vegetables have that claim to fame.
The inspiration for this post came from the okra that I prepared the other day. I found another use for slightly overgrown pods. I split them in half, drizzled on the olive oil, salt and pepper and off they went to a scalding hot grill to char. You could even add your favorite spice to it like curry. No slime that turns so many off and a wonderful smoky sweetness that complimented the unbelievable swordfish that my husband had grilled to perfection. Plus, okra has a very unique shape that only enhances the presentation on the plate.
Sooooo…how else do you prepare this southern staple? Commonly, it is breaded and fried in an attempt, I assume, to disguise the vegetable since it gets a bad rap. I try to avoid fried food (except pomme frites ~ thank you Ian!). In the past, I wrote about pickled okra. Easy to do and the pod makes a gorgeous garnish for a Bloody Mary! Please refer to July 2013 for how-to instructions for pickling/canning. Of course okra is a must in gumbo and I have also written about this essential ingredient when I shared my recipe in the February 2013 post. In my quest to find multiple purposes for this odd, often undesirable vegetable, I have come up with a few recipes to share. Maybe you will try them or maybe not ~ but Ian, I challenge you to use okra at Bistro!
Because I despise lima beans, I decided to substitute okra for the beans in a succotash type of side dish. Perfect in the summer when the vegetables are fresh and readily available at a farmer’s market if you don’t grow your own. Give it a whirl…you may be pleasantly surprised.
Ali’s Okra Succotash
- 1 large sweet onion, sliced
- 2 celery ribs, sliced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 T. olive oil
- 1 T. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp. Creole seasoning
- 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
- 1 tsp. Sriracha (may substitute any hot sauce you like)
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 lb. fresh okra, sliced
- 2 cups fresh corn, cut off the cob
- Chopped fresh tomatoes
- Sauté first 3 ingredients in olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until onion is lightly browned.
- Add Worcestershire sauce and the next 4 ingredients and cook, stirring constantly about 3 minutes.
- Stir in stock and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes.
- Stir in okra and corn; add additional ¼ cup stock if you need more liquid. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes until vegetables are tender.
- Garnish with chopped tomato.
Note: I have not served this dish over rice but I imagine it would make a nice meatless main dish or an even heartier side; a pilau of sorts. Throw on some bacon bits and everyone will devour the dish!
Any vegetable can be made into a fritter ~ aka cakes or patties. I like to fool myself into thinking that fritters are NOT a fried dish because the oil depth is low. I like to say I am sautéing ~ ha! The following dish is a nice complement to steamed shrimp.
Ali’s Okra Fritters
- Canola oil
- 2 cups fresh okra, sliced
- ¼ cup cornmeal
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup onion, minced
- 3 T. fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 T. Parmesan cheese, shredded
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. red pepper
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg, slightly beaten
- Panko breadcrumbs, if needed to thicken batter for patties
- Pour oil to a depth of 1/2 – 1 inch in a large cast iron skillet.
- Combine okra, cornmeal, flour, onion, parsley, cheese, salt and pepper.
- In another bowl, combine cream and egg.
- Pour wet mixture into dry ingredients, stir to blend (add breadcrumbs here if the mixture is too runny). and refrigerate for 30 minutes to stiffen).
- Refrigerate for 30 minutes.*
- Heat oil to medium-high/bubbling.
- Form small patties and place into skillet. Sauté 3 minutes, gently turn and cook another 2 minutes until golden brown.
- Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
*Tip: I find that refrigerating the mixture makes forming the fritters simpler; otherwise the dough can stick to your fingers.
When I prepare okra on the grill I typically throw it in a grill basket. However, placing it on pre-soaked bamboo skewers also works well and they can be grilled directly on the grate to make an interesting appetizer.
Ali’s Proscuitto Wrapped Okra Skewers
- Olive oil, divided
- 2 T. white balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp. lemon zest
- Salt/pepper to taste
- ½ lb. fresh okra, cut in half
- 4 slices prosciutto, cut lengthwise into thin ½ inch strips*
- Non-stick cooking spray
*No need to use good imported prosciutto from Parma @$25/lb. for this recipe as you are burning $$$ and will still get that wonderful smoky, salty taste from a less expensive import or even a domestic prosciutto (blasphemy).
- Combine 3 T. oil, vinegar, zest, salt and pepper. Whisk to mix.
- Wrap okra with prosciutto strips. Thread onto skewers and brush with remaining oil.
- Place okra on very hot grill grate previously sprayed with non-stick oil.
- Grill 2 minutes, turn and grill 2 more minutes.
- Brush with balsamic mixture, grill 30 seconds.
- Remove from heat, arrange okra on a platter and drizzle with remaining balsamic mixture.
I hope that I have inspired you to either try okra for the first time or make one of my recipes if you like this versatile vegetable. I will continue to plant the seeds annually and experiment with recipes to add to my files. One day okra soup ~ maybe…