Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Finding Okra

I like to find a new ingredient that is intriguing to me, learn more about it, and develop a great recipe.  That is exactly what happened on Saturday at the Farmer's Market when some Jing Orange Okra grabbed my attention at the Terra Vita Farms stand. 

Up to this point, my only experience with okra was in soup (maybe even a gumbo), and probably only a couple times.  I didn't have anything against okra, but it just didn't register on my radar.  The color of this particular fruit (yes, it's a fruit; I checked) caught my attention.

After some quick research about okra, I learned just enough to be dangerous in the kitchen.  Fortunately, I stumbled upon a DELICIOUS side dish!  This is basically how it went:

Okra and Sun Dried Tomatoes with Rice

Olive oil
Sun dried tomatoes, julienned
Mild peppers, sliced thin (they were from my parents' garden so I am not sure the variety I used; they looked like banana peppers but didn't have any heat)
Garlic, minced
Okra, sliced thin into wheels
Brown rice (cooked)
Kosher salt

Saute the sun dried tomatoes in the olive oil until fragrant.  Add the peppers and garlic; saute for 2 minutes.  Add the okra and salt; saute for about 1-2 minutes.  If the okra cooks too long, it will get gooey and sticky; you really want it to stay firm.  Stir in some rice.  Eat and enjoy!

Are you interested in learning more about okra?  I was.  Here is a little bit of what I learned this week:

Okra originates in Africa and is a member of the same family as the hibiscus.  Because it has seeds, it is a fruit.  Okra is commonly found in Middle Easter, Cajun, and Creole dishes.  It is a common thickener used in soups and stews, such as gumbo.
To Buy:
  • Choose colorful fruits that are long and thin.  When the pods grow longer, they get woodier, drier, and tougher. 
  • Fresh is best when it comes to okra; it does not store well (even in the refrigerator) and is best when eaten a few days after harvest.
 To Cook:
  • Flavors that pair well with okra include: tomatoes, onion, pepper, curry, coriander, oregano, lemon, and vinegar.
  • Stir-fry tender pods whole; add at the end of cooking and quickly heat through.
  • Steam pods and dip them into seasoned oil or butter.
  • Cut the pods into cross-section "wheels," bread, and fry.
  • Pickle it.
  • To avoide releasing the mucilage and turning it into a goopy mess, keep the pod intact and do not cut off the base or tip.
  • Feeling adventurous?  The mature seeds can be toasted and used as a coffee substitute.
 To Eat:
  • Okra is high in fiber and low in calories.  it contains significant amounts of vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, calcium and iron.  (Delicious and good for you...what could be better?)
I hope this inspsires you to try a little okra the next time you find it at the store or the farmer's market.  Let me know how it goes!

Bon appetit!

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