Summer is starting to wind down a little early here in Oklahoma… and I am okay with that… so that means the summer garden is starting to wind down too.
My okra did really well this year, and I have plenty of jars of the pickled goods, had my fill of the southern styled fried goods, but now I wanted to try a little something different… so I went the Asian route. Before we get into all that, let’s talk about the makeup of okra. Okra is one of those “vegetables” I receive a lot questions on, so let’s knock that all out In The Kitchen With Scotty style. Short and to the point.
Yes, Okra (as far as the United States goes) is a “southern” tradition. Why? Well okra thrives in warmer climates. There are varying disagreements on where okra originated, so I am going in the direction of how I think it got to be part of the southern US foodscape. That direction being that it was brought over with slaves from Africa and the Caribbean. The seeds were able to be dried out, then soaked over night, and planted in the warmer southern area of America. After about a week they germinate and new okra sprouts up. If the slaves were allowed to cultivate their own gardens, or even if they weren’t and had the okra hidden away in secret gardens, they indeed grew and were incorporated into new recipes. Eventually, okra weaved its way into the American southern diet where it remains to this day.
What is the “slime” in okra, and is it preventable? The slime is “mucus” (as gross as that sounds) much like the aloe vera plant. It’s basically a break down of the natural sugars in the plant, combined with plant based protein. The slime or mucus comes about when okra is gently heated. So preventing the slime? Cook hot and fast. An instructor at Oklahoma State mentioned soaking cut okra in vinegar first as well, which makes sense since acid coagulates proteins, but I have never tried this method. The slime is also beneficial as a thickening agent. A lot of people are familiar with the Louisiana creole goodness of “Gumbo”. Gumbo is actually a shortened version of an African name for okra, ki Negombo. When the cut okra is added to the soup, the proteins are extracted helping to thicken up the soup. Along with Filé (ground sassafras root) these two are a must for flavoring and structure of Louisianan gumbo.
So putting my southern dining roots aside, I crossed the oceans for another side of Okra… a curried flavor side. Okra is also found in Asian, east Asian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean dishes. Remember… okra likes to grow in warm/tropical like environments. When preparing this dish it’s important to cook hot and fast, so oil also matters. Using an oil with a high smoke point (can cook hotter) with minimal flavor to compete with the spices of this dish is ideal. Oils like grapeseed oil or canola oil is a good choice in my opinion. If you do not mind lighter flavors added try peanut oil or avocado oil too!
Ingredients: Serves 2-3 generous portions
4 cups sliced fresh okra
3-4 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 fresh garlic cloves smashed and minced
1 tablespoon yellow curry
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In The Kitchen With Scotty “Soul Licious” Seasoning or Salt and Black Pepper to taste
- It’s important to have all of your mise en place (ingredients prepped and ready to cook) together because this recipe moves fast. In a heavy bottom skillet or even a high temp wok, begin heating the grapeseed oil until it starts to shimmer. Add in the dry spiced ingredients all at once and “fry in the pan”.
- Add the diced onion and cook until tender. Next, add the minced garlic and ginger and fry until fragrant.
- Turn up the heat, careful not to burn, what is in the pan. Add in the sliced okra and quickly cook until tender, coated, fragrant, bright. Sprinkle in the Soul-Licious seasoning or season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve immediately as a side dish… or as in a meal on its own. Enjoy!