The Nerd Makes Good: A Double Ode to Okra*

* Or, Give Pods a Chance!

okrabare2

[Okra pods, in the raw]

I have a confession to make.  I haven’t told you all about this yet because, quite frankly, I was afraid you’d reject me.  Move that cursor elsewhere, and click.  At best, roll your eyes.  Maybe snort in disgust.  Maybe gag, even.

But I’ve decided it’s time.  I mean, really, what kind of lasting relationship can we have without full disclosure?  

So I’m just going to come out and say it:

I love okra.

I.

Love.

Okra. 

Are you running for the hills yet? 

Oh, I know what you’re thinking:  Okra?  That polygonal pod that’s a staple in gumbo, and mostly reviled? That much-maligned member of the marrow family (but cocoa is in that family, too!) that most people reject without so much as a nibble?  That pariah of the produce aisle that’s often referred to as gluey, viscous, slimy or mucilaginous–with seeds that remind you of those bowls of peeled grape “eyeballs” we all stuck our hands into at Halloween when we were kids?

Yep. That okra.

I adore okra’s long, lantern-shaped pods, the vibrant green skins with just a hint of fuzz and the wagon-wheel innards when you cut them across. I love the mild, slightly woodsy flavor and the pop of the seeds in your mouth.  I could eat okra every day, and never tire of it.

I think it’s heartbreaking that okra gets such a bad rap.  Okra is like the pimply nerd at school–the reject, the Carrie, the Napoleon Dynamite , the Ugly Betty.  The last kid to be chosen for the baseball team.  The scrawny kid on the beach who gets sand kicked in his face.  The pink-and-too-frilly kid who takes her dad to the prom. The computer geek nobody wants to date so then he quits high school and starts some computer company run from his parents garage and redeems himself by becoming the richest guy in America. . . oh, wait.  That would make him Bill Gates, wouldn’t it?  And then he’d actually be much sought after, wouldn’t he? Well, heck! To my mind, that IS okra!

okraquinoa1

[A bit of spice, a bit of bite, a bit of lemon zest: an endearing combination.]

I think we should give okra the accolades it deserves. Let’s nurture its low self-esteem. Let’s compliment its grassy hue and lovely symmetry, tug its cute little tail at the narrow end and make it blush.  Sure, it was born a green vegetable (already at a disadvantage compared to, say, watermelon).  And then there’s the goo factor.  But sometimes, with a recipe that takes our humble ingredient and pushes it to be its best, well, that little green lantern can really shine.  That’s what I wish for my buddy, okra.

In these recipes, okra is elevated to something that transcends its reputation. It’s like okra gussied up for a date.  Okra getting an A+ in physics. Okra at its best self–I know, like okra after taking one of Oprah’s “Be Your Best Self” weekends!  (Just imagine the introductions at that seminar, sort of like David Letterman’s ill-fated attempt at hosting the Oscars:  “Okra, meet Oprah.  Oprah, okra.”).

Besides, okra has much to offer us.  Described by WholeHealthMD as having a taste that “falls somewhere between that of eggplant and asparagus,” it’s a good source of Vitamin C and several minerals; and the seeds offer up protein in every pod, along with 4 grams of both soluble (known to help keep cholesterol levels in check) and insoluble (great for regularity) fiber in a one-cup (240 ml) serving.

okramasalaside1

[Still slightly al dente in this photo; cook a bit longer if you’re an okra neophyte.]

These are two of my favorite okra dishes, ones that we consume fairly regularly here in the DDD household.  The first is another adaptation from my dog-eared copy of Flip Shelton’s Green, a Moroccan Spiced Okra-Quinoa Pilaf.  I’ve made liberal changes to this one, including altering the base from rice to quinoa.  The spices are subtle with a barely detectable undertone of lemon zest in the mix.  Served sprinkled with chopped nuts, this pilaf is a meal in a bowl all on its own.

The second dish comes from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, Indian Cooking Course by Manisha Kanani. Again, I’ve made a few alterations to the original, which asks you to dry-cook the okra on the stovetop; I’ve found that adding chopped tomatoes and allowing the tender pods to stew in the juices produces a more appealing taste and texture. Although a masala curry, this one isn’t the least bit spicy, yet is still rife with the flavors of tomato, cumin, coriander and fresh cilantro. It’s a perfect side dish for Indian food, of course, but we also enjoy this as an accompaniment to burgers or cooked grains. 

So go ahead, give okra a try!  Who knows? You may even like it.  And don’t worry, the secret will be safe with me.

okraquinoa21

okramasalatop

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Comments

  1. I didn’t go running, I’m sure we all have a strange favorite ingredient. These dishes look wonderful, and like you’ve probably guessed, I’ve never had okra, but this makes me want to change that. Thanks!

  2. I have to admit that I’ve never had okra before, but I’m certainly aware of the stigma. 🙂 I will have to keep an eye out at the farmer’s market this spring, because that quinoa salad looks delicious!

  3. i have never had okra, but looking at your dishes, who could resist?

  4. I love okra too! I love the sliminess! 😉

  5. Confession = I do too 😀

  6. Had for the first time not long ago and thought it was great! What season should I expect to see it in stores? I love those recipe ideas.

    • Gayle Arendt says:

      Find it in the summer at the farmer’s markets, probably not at supermarkets. beware – the pods become tough and inedible if they’re large. Buy only pods no more than 3 – 4 inches in length. You can check for tenderness with a fingernail.

  7. My son loves okra. I’ll send him a link. 😀

  8. I *love* okra too! I love how it gets a little slimy, how it thickens dishes, how it is green and lovely…yum! That second dish looks divine–I will have to get some okra and try it out!

    Courtney

  9. Because my diet is so limited from all my intolerances I’m always up for finding new things I can eat. I confess though, to walking past the okra on the rare occasion I’ve seen it in the grocery store with the horrendous reviews I’ve read on the internet ringing in my ears.

    You’ve inspired me however, with that gorgeous looking pilaf, to give okra a chance!

  10. I love okra and I love how good those recipes look! Yums!

  11. Oh my goodness! I thought I was the only one in the world who thought so highly of this odd looking and super healing vegetable. I love it. Right up there with Brussel’s sprouts (if I am ever so fortunate to have children one day- they will surely hate me). These are fabulous recipes!

  12. Hayley,
    Not strange, I promise! It may be different from anything else you’ve eaten before. . . but not strange! 🙂

    krispycheks,
    Thanks for your comment, and for reading! Glad you’re willing to give it a try! And can’t wait to hear what you think of it.

    Pearl,
    Well, always better to give in to something healthy, right? 😉

    CCK,
    Really?? I actually never found it slimy, but if I did, I might change my mind! 😉

    VeggieGirl,
    YAY! Three cheers for shared okra-love! 🙂

    Michelle,
    So happy you liked it! I really don’t know the local “season,” as it’s just appeared in stores here. I just look for it intermittently, and am delighted when I actually see it there!

    Andrea,
    Yay! Thanks for spreading the okra love. 🙂

    Courtney,
    I agree–nothing like it. And if I *had* to pick one I like better, I’d say the second dish (masala okra)–great choice!

    Vegetation,
    The pilaf is really lovely. Now that I’m on this ACD, I can totally understand restrictions. Hope yours are feeling a bit easier!

    Jes,
    Another okra lover–yippee! I’m so happy that we’re all ‘fessing up. 😉

    Meghan,
    Thanks so much! But of course your kids will LOVE okra and brussels sprouts, because they will have eaten them from childhood!

  13. If you love okra, you’ll love this picture that I stumbled upon the other day:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ranjit/1314952266/

    Entitled “Wishing On a Falling Star” – or more like “Falling Okra”

    Your post reminded me of it! Poor, nerdy okra- more like Cinderella at the ball 🙂

  14. I love okra, and your recipes look great. When I make okra in the Greek style, I salt it and put it in the sun to dry out a bit, and that’s supposed to reduce the mucilaginous quality. But honestly, I don’t think it really matters and once you cook it, it’s not “slimy” anyway.

  15. …I don’t like okra. I’m glad you do though, I feel like such a baby for not liking a vegetable. Its not the way it tastes either, its the texture. Although…I believe I’ve only had it frozen, maybe it’d be better if I bought it fresh? Dunno.

    On Iron Chef last night, Cat Cora made okra fries.

  16. I totally love okra – I had no idea it wasn’t cool. Maybe that’s why we’re so naturally cool, we just are naturally hip. Whatever. The only bummer for me is I can’t find it here so I’m always a bit sad when I see such delicious recipes as these!!! Have a helping pour moi!

  17. YAY! I love okra too! I think it is delicious in all of it’s forms: pickled, fried (my favorite), in gumbo, sauted, stewed, in a casserole….it’s all good to me!

    I love these recipe ideas, just fabulous!

  18. I love okra, too! The sliminess has never bothered me, and I love how crunchy-sweet the seeds are! Yum.

  19. There must be some sort of collective vegan blogger consciousness going on.. I wrote a recipe for Cajun Okra Stew yesterday… (I am going to test it this week)..

    I am not a fan of okra unless it’s in stew.. I just can’t get over my mom feeding me steamed okra as a kid.. omg..

  20. I like, not love but like, okra but I’ve been a little freaked out by the whole okra dishes I’ve had in the past. They were all horribly stringy and cooked to a muddy olive green. I love the look of the masala and think that cutting the amount of okra with green beans sounds really delicious. It’s going on the the to-try list.

  21. DJ Karma,
    Thanks for the great photo! I loved it. I guess that really WOULD elevate okra, right? 😉

    Lulu,
    I agree–I’ve never really noticed that quality in okra! Maybe it’s like those people who can or cannot taste the “bitter” in certain foods, which is why some love it and some don’t!

    Gina,
    Well, we can’t all love everything the same way (or the world would be pretty boring). I love that Chef Cora made it, though! What did she do to create “fries”–just roast it?

    Shellyfish,
    Yes, it must certainly be that we are so uncool we’re cool!! And I’m sure I did have a serving for you (and for my sister, and for Elsie, and for Chaser, etc. . . kinda ate quite a bit). 😉

    Voracious Vegan,
    Yay! Glad to find another fan! But I’m not sure even I would like pickled!!

    Catherine,
    The seeds are kind of fun, aren’t they?

    Melody,
    Oh, I can’t wait to see your new recipe! You always make such innovative, colorful, yummy stuff. 🙂

    Maggie,
    I’ve had the olive-green variety, too–I don’t mind it well cooked, but stringy would definitely not be very pleasant!

  22. Hurray for maligned vegetables! Okra is on my DEFINITELY TO TRY list, and these recipes look really ideal to get my feet wet with. For some reason that moroccan thing looks really tempting! Does the okra give it a cool texture?

  23. Oh my, let me collect myself from chuckling about “Okra, Oprah” before I try that gorgeous pilaf. Bravo, Ricki!

  24. ooooh, thanks for these rock’n recipes, Ricki! i think i need to give okra another chance! wahoooooooooooo! and “give pods a chance” made me laughing my buns off! thank you! ahahhaahaha! yay!

  25. I wasn’t really watching it intently, but I think she sliced them up, battered, and fried them.

    And I know that we all have our own tastes but…I’m still sad that there is a veggie I don’t like, haha.

  26. I love okra!!! Come join us down south – here, your passion for okra will be celebrated! 🙂 I do still hear plenty of anti-okra sentiments, too, though, so it is sooooo nice to hear you championing okra!! *high five* 🙂 Your recipes sound I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E!! I can’t wait to try them both!!

  27. I had a bad, bad experience with okra, and am too stubborn to try it again. but I love you?

  28. Hi,
    I like okra too! It´s Portuguese name is “quiabos” and is a very typical vegetable in Africa, specially in Angola in a typical dish named “Moamba”.
    Regards
    Moira

  29. I’ve not cooked okra myself, but I do really enjoy it in Indian cuisine. Thanks for the recipes (and the admission!). 🙂

  30. I love love love okra. My only problem is when I cook it, it turns slimey. 🙁 I think I need to keep trying.

  31. I have never tried okra!!! I want to try it so badly (and when I finally do these recipes will be made), but I can’t find it anywhere!

  32. I thought of you when I read this:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/apr/04/vegetarian-food-and-drink

    And it sounds delicious!

  33. Just made the quinoa pilaf for a family meal and thought I’d drop in to tell you what a massive hit it was! I wasn’t sure what to expect (I’ve never baked quinoa before; only ever had it in fluffy salads) but the texture was beautifully tender, and – although none of my family knew what quinoa OR okra were – all the ingredients went down well. The pistachios and lemon zest were winners, too. This was genuinely delicious; thank you!

  34. I am a huge okra fan! Thank you for passing along these recipes! As a Texan, I have grown up with okra, especially fried okra and gumbo. This summer and currently I am growing okra, it’s still producing so much! So, I’ve been looking for different recipes. Can’t wait to try these!

  35. I. also. love. okra. Looking forward to trying some of your recipes. Love your writing style.

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