The more I cook the more I find myself chasing texture as much as flavour. The crunch of a gherkin with a rough country pate, the crispness of roast chicken skin and the gelatinous stickiness of a lamb shank. Okra, also known as lady’s fingers, is a must-have vegetable for the texture chaser. The late British cook and food writer Jane Grigson says its mucilaginous juice provides a ‘jellied smoothness’ to a sauce but the word that fits best I think is slimy.
When okra appears in recipes written by cooks not keen on the slime factor, elaborate instructions to salt the okra and leave in the sun, or rinse split pods in a solution of vinegar and water are included. These can safely be ignored. In fact it’s the slippery quality of okra that Americans in the deep south prize for its ability to thicken gumbo.
Late comedian Robin Williams loathed the stuff.
Okra is the closest thing to nylon I’ve ever eaten. It’s like they bred cotton with a green bean. Okra, tastes like snot.
Rest assured, it doesn’t. Actually it doesn’t taste of anything much which what makes it so versatile. Indians stew okra with spices and sometimes stuff the pods before crisp frying them. Greeks cook it with garlic, onion or leeks, tomatoes, lemon, parsley and olive oil which is delicious served hot or cold.
Fresh okra should be bright green with none of the brown patches that signal stock past its prime. As with many greens, smaller specimens are more tender and the best okra shouldn’t be more than about 6 cm long. It has a comparatively short shelf life so it’s best to buy only what you need no more than a day or so before cooking. A wash and trim of the conical stalk end is usually all that’s required by way of preparation. Australian cook Stephanie Alexander warns against cooking okra in an aluminium pan which she says turns the vegetable an unappetising shade of grey.
Strictly speaking it’s in season from mid Summer through to Autumn but it may make a surprise appearance in the depths of winter. So tell me, readers, where do you stand on slime?
This has been adapted from Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book
250g ham, cubed
1 large brown onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 red or green capsicum, chopped, minus seeds
1 tablesp tomato concentrate
500g tomatoes, peeled and chopped
500g okra, trimmed
cayenne or 1 dried chilli chopped
Stew the ham, onion celery and capsicum in a little oil or go trad and use lard. When they are beginning to soften, raise the heat so they colour lightly. Put in the tomato concentrate and the tomatoes. Stir until the tomatoes begin to collapse and liquify, then add the okra and seasonings. Cover and simmer slowly until cooked, checking if a little water is required but don’t drown it. The okra should be only partially covered with liquid. Taste and adjust the seasonings.