While my family is southern, I grew up mostly in the north, so okra was kind of a mystery to me. I think I first truly encountered it when I made a gumbo in college and it called for okra. I was briefly stumped because I wasn’t entirely sure what okra was. With a little research (thank you internet) I figured it out and dutifully bought a bag of frozen okra to dump in the gumbo. Such a bad idea. The okra was slimy and gross. I promptly crossed okra off of my edible food list and went on with life.
I carried on this way until about a year ago when my father planted okra in his garden. I came out for the night last summer and when okra appeared on my plate I nervously pushed it around my plate. “Try it,” my dad said, taking a big bite of okra, “it’s really wonderful.” I was skeptical. After all, my Dad has tried this tactic on me before. Like when I was ten and refused to eat seafood, my dad tried to get me to eat fried calamari by, “try it, it tastes just like French fries.” I didn’t buy it then and I wasn’t buying it now. I cautiously peered at the offending vegetable. It did look different from the frozen mass that had come out of the bag in college. It was bright green and rather perky looking. I sniffed it and admitted that it didn’t smell particularly offensive. I speared a piece and popped it in my mouth…
Holy crap it was good. I ate all my okra and held out the plate for more.
See, I’ve learned that the secret of okra is that it really has to be fresh. Okra does have those slimy tendencies I remember from my college trauma, but the fresher it is the less slime involved. I was fortunate enough to have the garden to plate experience. Now, I love okra and will beg for it during the summer.
My favorite preparation of okra is simply to sauté it with some olive oil and a little salt. Fresh okra is so good that it really doesn’t need anything else. But for those of you who are accustomed to having fried okra and insist that okra needs breading, here is a baked okra recipe that is also mighty tasty. The baked okra recipe comes from The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadsde Stands, and CSA Farm Boxesby Sheri Castle. This cookbook is organized by main ingredient, which I think is awesome. I’ve often been faced with the problem of, hey, this looks neat. Now what do I do with it? This book goes a long way to solving it since it lets me look up recipes based on the produce.
Prep the okra by thoroughly washing it off. I got mine straight out of the garden, so I wanted to make sure that all of that business was off of the vegetables. Dry the okra very well. I literally patted each one down in a paper towel. Then slice off the stalk end and cut into pieces, however big you want.
Heat a pan over medium – high heat. You want to get the pan really hot, but not so hot as to make the olive oil smoke. Pour olive oil into the pan and toss in the okra. Sprinkle some salt over it while it is sautéing. You only need to cook the okra for a minute or two because you want it to still have a little crunch when you eat it. Season with a little ground pepper.
1 lb Okra
1 C breadcrumbs (stale bread or store bought)
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Pepper
1/4 tsp Paprika
3 tbsp Olive Oil
1 tbsp Butter, melted (unsalted)
Note: I had no need to make a full pound of baked okra so I just scaled down the breading mix to what I needed. I basically cut everything in half.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Wash and cut up okra as described above, but I would cut the okra into slightly smaller pieces.
Use a grater or a food processor to grind the stale bread down into breadcrumbs. Or just put your store-bought bread crumbs into a dish.
Combine the butter and olive oil in one dish and in another combine the bread crumbs, salt, pepper and paprika. In small batches, toss the okra in the oil mix then roll in the crumb mix until coated. Place on the parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Once all the okra has been breaded, place in oven.
If making the full batch, bake for 15 – 20 minutes. If making a smaller amount (as I was), you can pare the time down. I baked mine for about 10 minutes.
Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. The New Southern Garden Cookbook suggests that using these baked okra as a crouton bite in a salad would be a neat way to go with this recipe.