Unless you live in the hot, sunny South, you may not be familiar with okra.
Since temperatures have been soaring in the Carolinas, okra is one of the veggies that fortunately loves heat. If you’ve never seen okra growing, it might surprise you to know the plants can get five to six feet tall, and that the pretty pods grow straight up with their tips up in the air!
The most common objection I receive is that okra has a “slimy” reputation.
Not so, if you follow a couple of very simple rules.
- First of all, start with very fresh small tender pods (no bigger than two inches in length). It takes me awhile to sift through a pile of okra looking for the smallest pods – but they are definitely worth the hunt! (Or grow your own, like I did a couple of years ago!)
- Make sure the pods are firm and don’t have even a hint of brown or spotty discolorations. Any darkening on the okra is a sure sign that it is past its prime.
- Plan to enjoy your okra within two days – but ideally, the same day if possible.
- Never, ever wash okra. I buy mine from organic farmers, and simply wipe each pod with a dry paper towel.
I ended up with way too much okra this past Saturday because everything at the Charlotte Regional Farmer’s Market looked so darn good.
I first bought a mess of green okra . . . and then I stumbled upon some lovely burgundy okra from one of my other favorite farmers and decided to test out the difference between the two varieties.
Since I know that the burgundy okra will turn green if you steam or sauté it, I kept its fresh beautiful color by breading it in organic cornmeal and Ian’s Gluten-Free Panko . . .
. . . and then “oven-fried” it at high heat (450 degrees for about 40 minutes) for super crisp and crunchy okra without a lick of greasy oil.
Crispy “fried” okra is one time-honored Southern tradition, but I know that my hubby also loves gumbo . . . so I thought some stewed okra with tomatoes and corn would provide a nice textural contrast without repeating the flavors.
Since I also had some lovely non-GMO sweet corn and fresh heirloom tomatoes, I quickly stewed the green okra. My hot tip is to first thoroughly cook your sweet Vidalia onions over low heat in extra virgin olive oil. Then, when the onions are soft and translucent, turn up the heat to medium high, and sauté your sliced okra very quickly. Since I’d already cooked my sweet corn in the husk in the microwave while the onions were cooking, it was a snap to remove the husks, cut the kernels off the cobs, add my diced fresh tomatoes, minced jalepeno peppers, and fresh minced garlic – cooking everything just five minutes more to blend the flavors.
So, to recap, I prepared my okra two completely different ways – and the okra wasn’t “slimy” in either dish!
My foray into okra madness also gave me a good excuse to try Gardein’s new vegan Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Wings. I was surprised to see that they actually look a bit like boneless chicken wings and had an appealing smell, taste, and texture. I sauteed them in about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat for about 4 minutes on each side, while I warmed up the sauce pack in a small bowl of hot water. Then, I added the sauce, and cooked everything for about a minute before I served them with my two okra preparations. I thought the barbecue sauce was a bit on the sweet side, but still palatable.
One minor quibble. There are about 10 wings per package, so in all honesty, Gardein should revise its package to indicate that there are two servings per package – not 2.5! Since I try to be a thoughtful wife, I gave my hubby six and I took four – but if our son had been home, I would have needed to make two packages of the wings!
But back to my oven-fried okra . . .
If you’ve ever wondered whether you could get crisp, crunchy okra, without deep frying, look no further!
- 1 lb. burgundy okra
- ⅓ cup organic whole milk kefir (or buttermilk)
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- ⅓ cup gluten-free panko
- ¾ cup organic cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
- Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
- Carefully wipe down your okra pods with a dry paper towel. Trim the stem, and slice them about ¼"-1/2" thick - no thicker! You should end up with about 2.5 to 3 cups of sliced okra.
- Mix the kefir (or buttermilk) and egg together with a whisk, and stir in your okra. Let it set for about 3-4 minutes while you do the next step.
- Combine the panko, cornmeal, and Old Bay in a shallow bowl. Line a jelly roll pan or a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick aluminum foil. (For good measure, I also added a light spritz of Bertolli's 100% Extra Virgin Organic Olive Oil Spray, to make sure the breaded okra wouldn't stick.)
- Using a slotted spoon, remove some of the okra from the egg mixture and dredge it in the cornmeal/ panko mixture. Make sure that it is thoroughly covered, and then put the breaded okra on the foil covered pan or baking sheet. Try to keep the okra in a single layer - although it is ok if some of it clumps together. Repeat with the rest of your okra.
- Bake for 40 minutes, turning the okra slices over about half-way through.
- Serve them promptly. When they are crisp and golden brown, there is nothing better!
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