If I were to be stuck on a desert island with one item of food, it would not be okra. If I were to be stuck on a desert island with a thousand items of food, okra would still not be on my list. In fact, if I were stuck on a desert island, with only okra and the beach to eat, I would probably spend my first deserted week developing recipes for sand cakes. Okra is my least favourite vegetable- in case you hadn’t guessed. Famous for it’s slimy texture, it’s used all over Africa, Asia and the Southern United States. It is like the Marmite of America. There’s rarely a person I meet whom has an opinion located between love and hate. If you’re from the South, you probably love it and if you’re from the North, you probably don’t. This is New York, and being in the Northern majority, I have not until now, felt the need to develop a love for okra.
Believe it or not, it actually frustrates me to no end that I don’t like okra. Being a self-proclaimed food-OC (obsessive compulsive), I feel that detesting okra, as I do intestines, pickles and raw oysters, challenges my credibility. It’s not the taste of okra that I dislike, or the fact that it looks arguably pornographic- it’s the mucilaginous texture that slides down your throat (like an oyster) that not only makes me gag and spit but gives me the heebie jeebies. And yes, I did just say the words: heebie jeebies. Okra is like the sloppy kiss of the culinary world, and I don’t do sloppy kissing.
At work this week, we had Southern Chef, Scott Peacock from Atlanta’s Watershed restaurant, cooking okra. If it wasn’t for the fact that Scott is one of the most wonderfully kind and entertaining Chefs that I have had the pleasure to work with, then I might have called in ill with the bubonic plague. As this was not an option, I decided to go in with all the enthusiasm that I could whip up and try to learn something. If not about liking okra, then at least how to cook it- on the off chance that I might one day be asked to do so. If anyone could get me salivating over okra, it would be Chef Scott and I SO badly wanted to like okra, slime and all. Perhaps it would be like a first kiss, and after that they stop seeming so sloppy.
Chef Scott cooked five okra recipes, fried okra, sautéed okra, okra pancakes, pickled okra and roasted okra. I tried, and tried and tried- the words “never give up” could have been plastered to my wrinkled-with-disgust-forehead but it was not good. Okra and I were not to be friends. And what I did learn, apart from five ways to cook it, was that the only thing worse than cooking okra recipes all afternoon, was knowing that I would be up at five am the following morning, cooking okra recipes again. Sorry, Chef Scott, it just wasn’t meant to be!
Of course, I could sit and blame my upbringing and the lack of “alternative vegetables” in it as the reason for my negativity towards okra or I could accept the fact that perhaps, just maybe, I’m a fussy eater. After all, there are many countries that love the gooey mouth sensation. But the angle I’d prefer to take on this, is that I’m just a super-taster, and I can taste the bitter in sweet. Super-taster or not though, for those who feel as I do about okra, you can be rest assured that if I ever get to write my own cookbook, there won’t be a single okra recipe in there- or sand, for that matter.
Roasted summer vegetables with garlic and mint
Southern Chef, Scott Peacock inspired this recipe. Of course, I exchanged the Okra, and green beans (only because I didn’t have them) for an unmucilanginous vegetable, Asparagus, but if you’re pals with okra then you can follow his original recipe.
225g/8oz okra (or very thin asparagus)
1 small red onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup cherry or heirloom tomatoes, or a mixture of both (cherries can be halved or left whole, depending on their size; heirlooms should be cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces)
3/4 cup shelled field peas
handful fresh mint leaves, torn
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/ Preheat the oven to 450 F
2/ Rinse the okra in cold water and drain well. Trim the stems from the okra tops, but don’t remove the caps. Slice the okra lengthwise and put in a mixing bowl. If using asparagus instead, trim the woody ends. Add the onion, garlic, tomatoes, peas or beans and mint leaves. Drizzle the olive oil over and season well with salt and pepper. Toss to mix and transfer to a large baking sheet.
3/ Roast in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, giving the vegetables a toss if needed.
Serve hot, warm or room temperature.