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About three weeks ago, one of our garden coop plots was weed-ridden (again), so a couple of us waded in. I climbed behind a trellis of spent pea vine to pull them out. Among the weeds, I saw a row of what looked to me like prehistoric plants: sturdy red stems, deeply cut reddish-green leaves and spectacular white flowers with big garnet-red centers, like a rose of Sharon or a hibiscus.
My garden mate identified them for me as the okra she had planted as seedlings. This Northern okra was a beauty. The three varieties there — slim and green, chunky and green and some with skinny, red pods — soon began to distinguish themselves, too.
I’m kind of shy about cooking okra; it doesn’t come naturally to me. If I cook it too long, it becomes slimy. If I pick it when it’s too big, it’s “corky” and too tough to eat, and making a big-deal gumbo with it seems like a production.
I’m learning though; especially from Rainbeau Ridge’s Georgia-born assistant cheese maker, Blair, who grew up eating okra and knows all about it. She recommends giving the small pods a quick stir-fry, a method that produces okra that’s both crunchy and yummy!
Indian-style curry (or Thai) is a perfect match for okra and is typical of that cuisine, too, where the long, elegant pods are called lady fingers.
To add it to a mix of vegetables, I cook it separately, usually before the rest of the vegetables, so the okra keeps its firm texture and doesn’t become glue-like. Simply add it back into the mix when the other vegetables are ready.
I also learned to lightly pickle the okra: to cut and clean it, then blanch and brine it. Along with pickled peppers, pickled okra became a family favorite last winter.
Like creamy fava beans, smooth and dusky kale, olive-shaped Mexican gherkins, and other “What the heck are those?” vegetables I helped tend this summer, okra is a full-fledged addition to my vegetable repertoire. You don’t have to have deep Southern zones to grow it, and you don’t need a drawl to cook and enjoy it. In fact, here’s my friend Wendy’s curried okra recipe — she still has her Aussie accent!
Recipe: Curried Okra
“I added garlic and sliced summer squash to the onions and served it with brown rice. The okra wasn’t slimy at all,” says Wendy.
- 4 cups okra, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 tomatoes, sliced
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
Place the okra in a large, microwave-safe dish; cook in microwave on high for six minutes.
Heat the olive oil and cumin seeds together in a large skillet over medium heat until the cumin seeds swell and turn golden brown. Fry the onions in the heated oil for three minutes. Add the tomatoes to the mixture and cook another three minutes. Stir the okra into the mixture; season with the curry powder and salt. Cook and stir the mixture until hot, about three minutes more.