The Milkweed Diaries

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Beautiful, flavorful, fabulous. . .Okra!?!

First let me say that even if okra were not edible, I would grow it for its sheer beauty.

Look at these okra flowers in bloom. Please! Okra flowers are the most beautiful blooms in my garden right now, and despite all kinds of weather (including seemingly unending rain for the past ten days) and all manner of insects multiplying like crazy in the garden, the okra flowers are still gorgeous.

We grew two varieties of okra this year, Burgundy (left) and Fife Creek (below).

I can't resist posting a few more photos:

I can't get enough of the okra flowers.

Now, on to the eating of okra. As a garden crop, okra is virtually pest-free here in western North Carolina, and incredibly sturdy and prolific. Despite these virtues, okra is not universally popular as a food. And that is putting it mildly.

My mom says that from an informal survey that she conducted at her church, she has concluded that people have very strong feelings about okra. You might even say that okra is a polarizing force. "People either love it or hate it," she says, "and a lot of people really hate it."

I know I have the zeal of a cult member about this, being one of the people in the "love" camp, but I really feel that much of the hate is, like a lot of hating in general, just a matter of misunderstanding. In the specific case of okra, I just don't think people have had it "cooked right."

Now you can batter and fry almost anything and make it taste good. But there is a very simple way of preparing okra that brings out its excellent flavor and makes this fabulous summer vegetable hard to resist, in my highly biased opinion. At a recent dinner party, I dared even those who thought they were okra-haters to try the okra I was serving and still hate okra. All but one of the previous haters said they actually liked the okra I served, and the lone holdout said that he would not say he had hated this okra, but rather had "just sort of not liked it." So at least if we cannot de-polarize the health care debate, we are making progress on the okra debate.

So here is the secret:

Don't slice it and saute it, or make the typical tomato-based gumboish dish (although for okra lovers, those are other fine ways to enjoy it). Just wash it, leave it whole, drizzle it with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle on some salt and grind on some pepper, and bake the okra.

I like to bake it for about 30 minutes with quartered onions, whole heads of garlic, whole Italian frying peppers, and sliced summer squash, all fresh from the garden and drizzled/sprinkled with the aforementioned seasonings.

I first had okra prepared this way earlier this summer at my friend Shane's house. She had roasted a big batch of whole okra after marinating it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and kept it cold in the fridge for a snack. I know, cold, whole okra sounds disgusting. But it was so good I couldn't stop eating it. This was the first way I had ever experienced the delight of eating whole okra seeds -- baked or roasted, the seeds are plump, soft, little morsels that pop in your mouth -- mmm!

I've been making okra this way several times a week since that okra-licious experience at Shane's. Okra is still busting out in our garden like mad, so we just keep eating it, and I can't bring myself to cook it any other way anymore. Fresh from the oven it's mouth-watering, and as a snack the next day from the fridge, it's almost as good.

Haters: I dare you to try it and not change your minds. OK, I know, diversity is our strength, but maybe give it a whirl just once?

More on okra at Foodista:
Okra on Foodista


Aimee said...

Although (alas) okra does not grow around here in the cool, rainy pacific northwest, I did buy a bundle of it and make some hot pickled okra this year. There used to be a cajun restaurant in Seattle called Burke's that kept a crock of spicy pickles okra on every table and I ADORED it. I haven't breached a can of my own yet, but I have high hopes.

graciela. said...

I've been getting a lot of okra in my CSA box and have tried several ways of cooking with it. Still, it hasn't won me over yet. But I will try your method and see if it helps any. So it doesn't get slimy when you bite into it?

Milkweed said...

No slime. I swear. For real.

I love it pickled too. Especially fermented in brine!

Thanks for reading, y'all....

Christine said...

Hello! I found this blog in Foodista and followed it here. I love this blog! Okra is one of my favorite food. Thanks for sharing. By the way you can place more Foodista widget in your past and future blogs so that other Foodista readers can follow and see your blog too. Just search for a related recipe or food in Foodista and use its widget. I hope to read more from you. Cheers!