Gypsy's Travels


Sunday, August 5, 2007

Okra

It appears that "okra" is a magic word in our family. Fried okra has been a favorite dish for as long as I can remember and, even in my childhood home, we have tried to grow it in our garden. The years I did not have access to a "plot," I grew okra in my flower garden. It is not a bad-looking plant, being a member of the same family as the hibiscus. The flowers even resemble a hibiscus blossom. The deer do not bother it too much, probably because of the little stinging hairs found on the stems and leaves. Even the spineless varieties make my hands itch and sting when I harvest, although less than the ones that are not advertised as spineless. I learned to ask for "lady's fingers" when I wanted to buy okra in Australia.

Okra has a long history and even though I can never grow enough to satisfy everyone's craving for fried okra, it is used in many other ways. It was probably brought by enslaved people from Africa, is popular in cajun dishes, and the ground seeds were used to make "coffee" by Southern soldiers during the Civil War. DH's mother was from Tennessee and loved okra, but her children refused to eat it. That was fine with her! DH became a great fan after we married and I served it, not knowing he "didn't like it."

Okra is better fresh off the plant, warm from the sun. It loses something when it sits in the store for a few days. We just like it fried,but not the fried kind found in restaurants. That kind is covered by a lot of batter and the okra is more steamed inside than fried. I have tried several different methods of breading the okra before frying, but the one we like best is very simple. Prferably, use young, tender okra about 4" long. I have been known to use larger, longer pods, if they are tender to the knife; I just cut them a little thinner. Rinse well and trim both ends off the okra pod. Slice into 1/2" - 1/4" slices. Make sure they are plenty wet with water, then toss in coarse or stoneground cornmeal. Slices will not be completely covered by cornmeal, but cover as well as possible. Let sit a while (15 minute?) so cornmeal adheres well. Heat oil in pan, add prepared okra slices, and fry until golden brown. I use a skillet, preferably a cast-iron skillet, and don't completely submerege okra, but I turn it as it changes color. Drain the fred okra on plenty of paper towels, sprinkle with salt, and enjoy while hot. The exposed portion of the breaded okra is delightfully crisp and mingles with the crisp cornmeal breading.

If I am trying to save enough okra to make a "mess" big enough for the whole family, I freeze the breaded, sliced okra raw and put it in the hot oil without thawing. Bon Apetit! Let me know how it goes and how you like it.

Near the end of the season. I let a few okra pods go to seed on the plant. I use the resultant dried pods in various crafts, just for fun. I wonder when I will have time to get busy on my "Okra Angels."

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