Okra is one of my favorite plants on the farm right now. It has a dramatic look about it, standing out among the overgrown and weedy beds of late summer, tall and spiky with beautiful yellow and red flowers that come and go each day. The plants are (knock on wood) healthy and vigorous, and I suspect that if you had the time to watch you’d be able to see the fruit growing before your eyes; we pick every two days, and I think maybe we really should be harvesting daily given the speed at which they grow.
As much as I like growing it, however, I’ve only cooked with okra once or twice, maybe only eaten it a time or two beyond that, and when people at the market ask me what I do with it I often mumble something about well, I don’t really like okra that much…
Incidentally, here is an obnoxious thing that I often think (and occasionally say out loud) when someone tells me they don’t like a certain vegetable (especially eggplants): “well, that’s probably just because you have never had it cooked properly.”
So, I took it as a bit of an admonition when flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks the other day, Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni, I came across the introduction to her recipe for Stir-fried Okra, which reads:
If there is one vegetable that is grossly misunderstood and underrated it is okra. It can be truly delicious if properly cooked. In my intermediate-level cooking classes, I always include an okra preparation. This inevitably elicits dismay and not a little disgust from the students. They picture the overcooked, bland stewed okra in a slimy sauce that they have tasted so often. Sliminess results when cut okra comes in contact with water. In Indian cooking, particularly North Indian, okra is never cooked with water. The North Indian technique, which is just about perfect, calls for stir-frying okra in oil. After this explanation and a little persuasion, my students reluctantly give in, probably just to satisfy their curiosity. But when the dish is finally made and sampled, they are delightfully surprised and sorry to have missed out on such a delicacy all these years.
Fair enough. Having had a trusted source call me out on my hypocrisy, I decided to give her recipe a try. It turned out to be incredibly simple, basically just a simple saute, with two important caveats. In order to avoid the sliminess caused by contact with water, Sahni explains, one should “always remember two things when cooking okra: Dry the washed okra thoroughly before cutting it. Salt it only after it is fully cooked, as salt will cause the okra to sweat.”
She was completely right. The dish was delicious. I was indeed both delightfully surprised and sorry for the years I have wasted okra-less. Please, check out the recipe over in the Veggie Pages, and don’t forget that even the weirdest and slimiest vegetables among us deserve a second chance!