It’s been a strange, El Nino year for gardeners. If it isn’t raining to the point of destroying crops (Northeast), gardeners in many areas are reporting stunted eggplants and tomatoes taking forever to ripen. Here in the District of Columbia, I’m having the unusal experience of bending over to harvest my okra.
Okra, one of my all-time favorite vegetables, loves heat and humidity. Nighttime temperatures dipping into the low 60s may be great sleeping weather, but it’s not the kind that makes okra reach for the stars. But that doesn’t seem to deter the okra from producing their delectable seed pods. If you’re growing okra, you better be checking them every day. Even twice a day. Or they will get out of hand.
Do you have a problem with gooey okra? Not me. I mean, my okra–fresh okra–has never been gooey. I once had a problem with trying to make a salad out of store-bought okra. But I know some people who eat okra raw (right, Pattie?) and they don’t report a problem. I think if you grow your own okra, you’ll forget about goo and start looking for more ways to put it on your plate.
I know that many people prefer their okra fried (to eliminate the goo). But my go-to recipe for okra is this version of “smothered” okra that I originally found in one of Jessica Harris’ collections. Being originally from Africa, okra has a strong tradition in Caribbean, Southern and Creole cooking. It’s famous in gumbos. But you know what? It’s also extremely nutritious, loaded with vitamins and minerals and fiber. It’s also low on carbs.
To start this dish, I sweat half an onion and a small green pepper, roughly chopped and seasoned with salt, in bacon grease in a heavy pot (you can substitute olive oil). When the vegetables are soft, add a pint of okra pods, cut on an angle into 1/2-inch pieces, plus a cup of diced tomatoes and the kernels from one fresh ear of corn. Cover the pot and simmer until the okra is completely cooked through and aromatic, about 20 minutes.
I never cease to be amazed by the flavors this simple dish develops without any additional herbs or seasonings. Add a little salt and pepper if you like. If you are eating carbs, enjoy it with a warm slice of your favorite skillet corn bread. Otherwise, we love to serve this next to a spicy, jerk-seasoned chicken, or maybe a pork sausage. Just forget about your fear of goo and eat more okra.