The Several Faces of Southern Okra
By Deborah Salomon
I felt this woman watching me do the unthinkable: pick the smallest okra pods from the basket at the farmers market.
"How do you folks eat that stuff, anyway?" she asked, almost rhetorically.
By "you folks" she meant me, not smelling my half-Yankee blood boiling in the July sun.
We chatted a moment about okra's sliminess, about the big ugly seeds in mature pods, about the skuzzy fuzz.
Which got me to thinking, how do we folks eat it, anyway?
For shock value, to transplants still perched on the fence, I'll tell you:
On pizza. Sweet onion sliced into paper-thin rings, okra pods sliced crosswise, also thin, crumbled spicy sausage lightly stir-fried and strewn over a robust sauce on a good crust. Bake at high heat until okra is tender. Sprinkle a grated sharp cheese over two minutes before removing from oven.
By the same token, roasted. Spray a baking sheet with oil. Trim medium pods at stem end without cutting into pod. Arrange okra in single layer on pan and spray again with oil. Sprinkle with fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast at 400 degrees until tender and beginning to brown, turning once with a spatula. Serve with lemon wedges and Parmesan cheese that you grated.
Home-pickled. This sounds crazy. Try it anyway. Steam whole small-to-medium okra pods in a basket over simmering water until barely tender. Buy a jar of refrigerated kosher-style dill pickles, half-sours if you can find them. Fish out the pickles, store in another jar. Slice a garlic clove into the brine and add steamed okra to the jar. Screw on the lid and shake several times. Refrigerate overnight, shaking once or twice. Pickled okra pods are particularly good with hard-cooked eggs, deviled or not. They are also fine on a sliced tomato salad.
The jolly green soup additive. Okra has only about 35 calories per cup. But once cooked, it soon turns from bright to gray-green, which is why you won't find it in canned soup. However, to freshen and brighten a premium brand hearty tomato soup/bisque, corn soup or gumbo, cook sliced okra in a small amount of simmering water until tender and bright green. Drain, rinse with cold water, spread on paper towels. Heat soup to a simmer, add okra, stir just until still-bright okra is hot. Serve immediately.
And, lest we forget the best frying method: Cut okra into ? inch rounds. Beat an egg in a shallow dish, add okra and stir until coated. Shake ? cup flour and ? cup seasoned bread crumbs in a paper bag. Lift okra out of egg with a slotted spoon and add to bag in small batches. Shake to coat well. Fry in oil, in single layer, turning with tongs as the pieces brown. Drain on paper towels, keep warm in oven. Serve as an appetizer with a spicy dipping sauce: one part chowchow or tomato relish to two parts reduced fat ranch dressing.
So that, among other ways, is how we folks eat okra.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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