On Okra (with a Gumbo recipe)
Before I moved south I had never consumed any okra, and for the better part of the first two years living in South Carolina the only way I had encountered and eaten the strange slimy seed pods was in pickled form. However, getting into gardening has changed all that and I am now on my second year of growing and eating okra.
Okra is weird. The plant itself is in the hibiscus family and has lovely ornamental flowers which quickly die away to produce the edible seed pods. The plants have a very spiny and itchy characteristic to them, and if you don’t grow a spineless variety you soon learn that the seed pods maintain this prickly personality. The pods themselves are odd, slightly phallic, spikes of green, red, or silver (actually a very pale white-green) depending on variety. When cut they reveal a mass of seeds, and the cross-section creates a lovely star-like silhouette.
It seems that okra is a real hit-or-miss veggie for a lot of people. This tends to be based upon the very slimy nature of the pods upon cooking. As such, some people are okay with the pickles or fired okra, but shy away from any other preparation. I, personally, have embraced the vegetable entirely, and even find it appealing raw, right off the plant (unless it is a particularly spiky pod, then it kind of sucks and hurts). I like the flavor, which I think is something kind of like a green beans mixed with a carrot.
One thing I have learned from growing okra is that you have to be prepared to harvest it almost ever other day as it is a prolific producer. The pods grow fast and if they are allowed to get too large they become tough and pretty much inedible (plus the plant will stop producing if you don’t harvest).
With all the okra I have bene harvesting from our batch of eight or so plants I decided to cook a vegetarian gumbo last night (okra is a classic gumbo ingredient). While it was a time-consuming recipe to cook (lots of vegetable chopping and simmering) I thought it was totally worth it. Here is basically what was included:
- One very large red onion chopped into medium sized pieces
- Four large garlic cloves finely diced
- About two dozen various fresh tomatoes (specifically ones that were approaching being too fresh) roughly diced. I kept the skin and the juices.
- About a pounds of okra chopped into cross-sections
- Four medium-sized carrots, chopped
- Various peppers. I used about seven heatless jalapenos, two heatless paprika-type peppers, and then three hot cherry bombs. I had a fresh green cayenne which I decided not to include, but in hindsight, I totally should have.
- Summer squash. I used one very large Eight Ball variety squash but you could totally settle for something like two medium zucchinis or crookneck squashes.
- About two cups of stock (if you want it to be truly vegetarian use veggie stock. Last night I settled for some frozen chicken stock I happened to have on hand).
- copious amounts of finely chopped fresh oregano, thyme, parsley, and celery (keep the celery greens in this).
- Chili powder, paprika, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, ground ancho powder, salt, and black pepper as the seasonings (I’d give you specifics but I never measure spices)
- Cook all these in a pot starting off by cooking the onions and garlic and then adidng the other veggies. If this is too thick add a bit of water now and then. Simmer for about 30-40 minutes.
- Serve over white rice and add a generous amount of Tabasco sauce to get it up to good gumbo heat.
If I make the gumbo again I’d like to go out and buy some fresh shrimp. Sure it wouldn’t be vegetarian anymore, but that is a risk I am willing to take to include the delightful seafood in this meal. On the fly though this was a good low-cost meal (I didn’t have to run out to buy any special ingredients).
Anyway’s, this was a post about okra, and so to wrap it all up I’ll just say, “Yo okra, you’re alright by me.”