You heard me: okra. It is a southern staple that i had never had before, oh, high school.
When my family immigrated to this region from the Midwest, a lot of the indigenous cuisine was mysterious to us, so we avoided it. However, in high schools in the metro Atlanta area they serve battered and deep-fried okra as a side dish with school lunches. I decided it wasn’t that scary, and it is very versatile.
For example, okra is one of the primary ingredients in gumbo. Usually, when you hear gumbo, you imagine Cajun people with thick accents boiling up a stew with okra, beans, and shellfish. Well, i am allergic to shellfish, so here is a vegetarian variant.
Well, it is vaguely gumbo, as i made no attempt to try and use cajun spices. And really, with all the flavors in the ingredients, you don’t need it.
Now, a few things to keep in mind. First is that okra is, well, slimy. If you just boil it, it turns into a thick goo. This goo is good for thickening stews, but the sliminess of okra is something of an acquired taste. However, frying minimizes the sliminess.
You want fresh okra, which is abundant and cheap in The South for the next several months. Notice the okra in the picture above. It is nicely green, and firm but not rigid. What, you can’t tell that from the picture? Well, trust me. Okra should bend, just slightly.
For this recipe i sliced it up into discs about 1/2 to 3/4 of inch thick.
Throw out the stemmy top part. You can either toss the pointy bottom ends, or use them. In this recipe i used them. If you were battering and deep-frying, you wouldn’t use the pointy part.
1 pound of fresh okra, rinsed and chopped
1/2 an onion
1/2 a jalapeno
2 cloves of garlic
2 fresh roma tomatoes (although you could use any kind of tomato, really)
one can of beans (dark kidney)
half a can (about 4 ounces) of tomato sauce
1/3 cup of cider vinegar
about 2 cups of cooked rice
salt and pepper to taste
parsley or cilantro or green onion to granish
- Fry okra in perhaps 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Okra is very wet and sticky, so it will bubble and hiss like crazy. After about 5 minutes, the okra will start to brown. Cook about 15 minutes, stirring often.
- Make a hole in the center of the wok and add a little olive oil, maybe 1/3 tablespoon. add the minced garlic, jalapeno, and onion. Hit it with a pinch of salt, and let those fry for a minute or so, stirring gently.
- When the onions start to turn transluscent, stir them up with the okra and make a hole in the center, pushing the mixture back onto the sides of the wok or frying pan. Add a little olive oil and the chopped tomatoes, topped with a pinch of salt and a twist or two of pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the juice starts seeping out…
- Stir it all up together, then dump in the can of beans. I leave the bean liquid, but it you want to drain them that is fine too. Add in the tomato sauce, the vinegar, and about half a bean can full of water. You want to just barely cover everything.
- Let that simmer until most of the liquid is gone, about 20 minutes. The sauce will thicken as it cooks, as the natural viscosity of the okra thickens the sauce without making the dish slimy.
- Add in the rice, if you are using leftover rice as i was. If you are making fresh rice, you can just spoon the okra mixture over the rice. If you are adding old rice, stir it up, remove from heat, and cover. Let sit for 5 minutes as the rice warms and absorbs some of that yummy broth. If you are not mixing the rice directly in, remove from heat and cover, allowing it to sit for about 5 minutes. This lets the sauce thicken a bit.
- Sprinkle a bit of fresh chopped parsley, cilantro, and/or spring onion on top, and enjoy.
This is a variant on something i cook a lot. The ingredients differ — different beans, maybe add in some greens or other vegetable, depending on what is on hand. It is a good, simple dinner to make during a weeknight, after a long work day slaving over a mouse.