Vilified Ingredient of the Week - Okra

Those spindly, lime green fingers that resemble the stems of thistles but have a delightful fresh taste, have long been vilified in the UK as a vegetable. I blame TV chefs who have a far reaching influence over the loyal fan base of viewers. All it takes is one thoughtless comment about a vegetable, lets say Okra, being slimy and that's it! Unjustified shudders reverberate throughout the whole country at just the mere thought of it. Imagine! A slimy vegetable! Yuk!
This is a great shame because they are readily available and are a good source of Vitamins C and B6 and Folid Acid. Of course, many repulsive things are high in vitamins - and we would rather take a supplement than force something unpleasant down our necks.
But Okra is not unpleasant. It has a dreadful reputation for being muciliginous - that precise and self-fulfilling word being the key to Okras bad reputation. People don't want to eat a dish that might remind them of a bodily discharge and it doesn't help that Okra is also green. But...this quirky trait has yet another health benefit: it helps bind bile toxins, helping the liver to filter out the bad stuff, the fibre within Okra helps stabilise the blood sugar levels, and that same fibre also helps out the colon (i.e. by keeping the body 'regular').
Now forget the good stuff and consider the great stuff. Okra tastes delicious. I don't want to sound like the Okra Ambassador but if we can eat Foie Gras - the forcibly engorged liver of another animal - or eat Pork Pies which contain aspic made from a split pigs trotter, why do we have so much trouble eating a tasty, healthy plant?
Okra resembles a long green chilli. It can be pickled, deep fried, used as a thickener in gumbo and other soups or stews (that muciliginous quality has more than one function). In the Deep South, Okra is considered godlike amongst other vegetables. It is part of their culinary heritage in the same way the potato is to the Irish. It first arrived in New Orleans in the early 1700s and remains - literally - firmly rooted there.
There are hundreds of ways to serve this humble, vitamin-giving vegetable: casseroled, pickled, grilled, smothered and there are another hundred different ways of frying Okra.
If the 'slimy' aspect of Okra really does make you queasy, frying it could change your mind. Like that other vilified creature, the squid, Okra is best cooked very speedily or slowly, in a casserole. However you get all the flavour but none of the slime when fried. My husband recently bought two packs of Okra - which is nearly always to be found in the reduced fresh produce section of our local Tescos - one to be used in Gumbo and the other...."well, it was reduced!"
As a pre-supper appetiser, I sliced the green fingers into centimetre thick rings, doused them in beaten egg and then tossed them in Fish Fry. We can't get Fish Fry over here but a rough approximation is cornmeal seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika and a little cayenne. Incidentally, this works fantastically on small pieces of cod too.
The Okra is then fried in very hot vegetable oil and served with sour cream. And if nothing else is achieved, it would certainly prove a talking point at an informal cocktail party, particularly if you served it alongside plaintain chips.
And of course, it is best of all in Gumbo....

3 comments:

Kathryn said...

Hmm, I missed this yesterday somehow! I like okra. I seem to recall Gordon R sending it to room 101 - am I right?? Is that okra shallow or deep-fried, Freya?

Kathryn x

FreyaE said...

This post was saved as a draft previously, but was posted after the more recent. I would send Ramsay to Room 101!
The okra was shallow fried, but you could use either method.
Freya xx

Kathryn said...

Hmm, sending Gordon to room 101 wouldn't be such a bad idea. He does have a lovely lamb shank recipe though...

I will pick up some okra I think - they are always reduced in our Tesco too (!) - and give your dish a try.

Kathryn x