TRUST US. OKRA ISN'T THAT BAD
Pair it with traditional Southern partners – it grows on you
Depending on where you’re from and what your eating experiences have been, okra is either a much-adored summertime side dish — or a slimy excuse for a vegetable.
I’m definitely in the first group. I like okra fried, sautéed, pickled and steamed. I also like it stir-fried so that with each bite I get to taste the crisp-tender exterior giving way to a smooth and slightly squishy interior. I even like tender young okra pods stewed in a saucepan with nothing but a little water, butter, salt and pepper — the way my Arkansas grandmother used to cook it on the days when she wasn’t frying it in cornmeal or using it to thicken a pot of vegetable soup.
If you’re in the second group, you’re probably squinching up your nose about now.
I too would be leery of traditional Southern-
style stewed okra if I were an okra-phobe. If cooked a little too long, stewed okra can be quite slippery, not a great selling point for any kind of food, and understandably scary to a person with a cautious palate.
I didn’t have to go through a cautious courtship with okra — I was born into a family of okra lovers. Beginning at an early age, I was frequently exposed to okra’s unique texture and soon learned to accept its varying degrees of gooeyness as part of its charm, especially when it was plopped on a plate next to some of its Southern soul-food-mates: purple hull peas, slices of crunchy raw cucumber, tangy homegrown tomatoes and crisp sweet onion.
This combination, which I think of as the quintessential fresh-from-the-summer-garden Southern dinner plate, is just as satisfying today as it was all those years ago. (See recipe, this page.)
And now that farm-fresh dinners are all the rage, and okra fixed every imaginable way has been showing up in award-winning cookbooks (including “My New Orleans” by John Besh and “The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern” by Matt Lee and Ted Lee) and on fine dining menus (including Parkside and Uchi), it’s the perfect time for all of you okra avoiders to get acquainted, and maybe even fall in love, with this silky siren of the summer garden.
Sautéed, crisp-tender okra pods, tossed with heirloom tomatoes, bacon and a spicy vinaigrette make a lovely light meal. Recipe, D5
Here’s a farmer’s harvest on a platter: sweet onion, home-grown tomatoes, cucumbers and purple hull peas, topped off with fried okra. Dash on a lemon vinaigrette – made with cane sugar or honey to sweeten the tang – and you have a meal both fresh and refreshing.
Colorful in foliage as well as in its blossoms, okra is one of the most drought-tolerant vegetables. And it’s related to the source of marshmallows. See? Okra’s great.