Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Okra: What Is It and How Do I Cook It?

There are two schools of thought about this vegetable: love and hate.  Both exist within my immediate family.  I’m one of the lovers, while my cookbook collaborator, Kevin, is a hater.  Thus we have no okra recipes in our four cookbooks.

The haters dislike okra because it oozes a slimy liquid when cut, and they can’t move beyond that—even if the okra pieces are in a stew or soup and the liquid has disappeared.

The lovers like the distinctive taste.  Because okra is so little known to most people, it’s almost like discovering a new vegetable.  When you’re tired of broccoli, peas, zucchini, Brussels sprouts and other cooked green veggies, give okra a chance.  If you can’t find it fresh in the vegetable department, you can buy it frozen, either cut up or whole.  If buying fresh, choose the smallest okra possible.

In the U.S., gumbo is one of the most popular uses for okra, but I had my first bite of okra at an Indian restaurant buffet.  I was intrigued and quickly decided that cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper are good companions.  Here’s an Indian recipe I like from Madhur Jaffrey.

Sweet and Sour Okra
Sweet and Sour Okra – serves 4-6 (adapted from “Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery”
1 pound fresh okra 
1 tablespoon chopped garlic 
2 teaspoons ground cumin 
1 teaspoon ground coriander 
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric 
1/8 or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you like your food) 
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil 
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds 
1/2 cup water + more if needed 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon sugar 
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
Rinse the okra and cut off and discard the two ends.  Slice the okra into 1/2-pieces. 

Uncooked Okra
Combine the garlic, ground cumin, coriander, turmeric and pepper flakes in a small bowl and set aside. 
Put the oil in a frying pan and begin heating over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the whole cumin seeds.  As soon as they begin to sizzle, which should be within a few seconds, add the garlic/spice mixture. Cook, stirring, for several minutes. 
Add the okra, water, salt, sugar and lemon juice, stir and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat to low and cook, covered for about 10 minutes, or until the okra is easily pierced with a sharp knife.  Add 1-2 tablespoons water if the mixture seems too dry. 
Serve immediately or remove from the heat and reheat when needed.  
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