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The Nerd Makes Good: A Double Ode to Okra*

Posted Mar 14 2009 3:16pm

* Or, Give Pods a Chance!

okrabare2

[ Okra pods, in the raw ]

I have a confession to make.  I haven’t told you all about this yet because, quite frankly, I was afraid you’d reject me.  Move that cursor elsewhere, and click.  At best, roll your eyes.  Maybe snort in disgust.  Maybe gag, even.

But I’ve decided it’s time.  I mean, really, what kind of lasting relationship can we have without full disclosure?  

So I’m just going to come out and say it:

I love okra.

I.

Love.

Okra. 

Are you running for the hills yet? 

Oh, I know what you’re thinking:  Okra?  That polygonal pod that’s a staple in gumbo, and mostly reviled? That much-maligned member of the marrow family (but cocoa is in that family, too!) that most people reject without so much as a nibble?  That pariah of the produce aisle that’s often referred to as gluey, viscous, slimy or mucilaginous–with seeds that remind you of those bowls of peeled grape “eyeballs” we all stuck our hands into at Halloween when we were kids?

Yep. That okra.

I adore okra’s long, lantern-shaped pods, the vibrant green skins with just a hint of fuzz and the wagon-wheel innards when you cut them across. I love the mild, slightly woodsy flavor and the pop of the seeds in your mouth.  I could eat okra every day, and never tire of it.

I think it’s heartbreaking that okra gets such a bad rap.  Okra is like the pimply nerd at school–the reject, the Carrie, the Napoleon Dynamite , the Ugly Betty.  The last kid to be chosen for the baseball team.  The scrawny kid on the beach who gets sand kicked in his face.  The pink-and-too-frilly kid who takes her dad to the prom. The computer geek nobody wants to date so then he quits high school and starts some computer company run from his parents garage and redeems himself by becoming the richest guy in America. . . oh, wait.  That would make him Bill Gates, wouldn’t it?  And then he’d actually be much sought after, wouldn’t he? Well, heck! To my mind, that  IS okra!

okraquinoa1

[ A bit of spice, a bit of bite, a bit of lemon zest: an endearing combination.]

I think we should give okra the accolades it deserves. Let’s nurture its low self-esteem. Let’s compliment its grassy hue and lovely symmetry, tug its cute little tail at the narrow end and make it blush.  Sure, it was born a green vegetable (already at a disadvantage compared to, say, watermelon).  And then there’s the goo factor.  But sometimes, with a recipe that takes our humble ingredient and pushes it to be its best, well, that little green lantern can really shine.  That’s what I wish for my buddy, okra.

In these recipes, okra is elevated to something that transcends its reputation. It’s like okra dressed up for the prom.  Okra getting an A+ in physics. Okra at its best self–I know, like okra after taking one of Oprah’s “Be Your Best Self” weekends!  (Just imagine the introductions at that seminar, sort of like David Letterman’s ill-fated attempt at hosting the Oscars:  “Okra, meet Oprah.  Oprah, okra.”).

Besides, okra has much to offer us.  Described by WholeHealthMD as having a taste that “falls somewhere between that of eggplant and asparagus,” it’s a good source of Vitamin C and several minerals; and the seeds offer up protein in every pod, along with 4 grams of both soluble (known to help keep cholesterol levels in check) and insoluble (great for regularity) fiber in a one-cup (240 ml) serving.

okramasalaside1

[ Still slightly al dente in this photo; cook a bit longer if you're an okra neophyte.]

These are two of my favorite okra dishes, ones that we consume fairly regularly here in the DDD household.  The first is another adaptation from my dog-eared copy of Flip Shelton’s Green, a Moroccan Spiced Okra-Quinoa Pilaf.  I’ve made liberal changes to this one, including altering the base from rice to quinoa.  The spices are subtle with a barely detectable undertone of lemon zest in the mix.  Served sprinkled with chopped nuts, this pilaf is a meal in a bowl all on its own.

The second dish comes from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks,  Indian Cooking Course  by Manisha Kanani. Again, I’ve made a few alterations to the original, which asks you to dry-cook the okra on the stovetop; I’ve found that adding chopped tomatoes and allowing the tender pods to stew in the juices produces a more appealing taste and texture. Although a masala curry, this one isn’t the least bit spicy, yet is still rife with the flavors of tomato, cumin, coriander and fresh cilantro. It’s a perfect side dish for Indian food, of course, but we also enjoy this as an accompaniment to burgers or cooked grains. 

So go ahead, give okra a try!  Who knows? You may even like it.  And don’t worry, the secret will be safe with me.

Moroccan-Spiced Pilaf with Quinoa and Okra

adapted from Flip Shelton’s Green

okraquinoa21

Subtle flavors of warming spices and comforting vegetables, this quinoa-based pilaf can be made with any favorite grain. 

2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced fine

2 medium carrots, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) chili flakes

2 tsp (10 ml) ground ginger

2 tsp (10 ml) ground cumin

1 tsp (5 ml) ground coriander

1 cup (240 ml) dry quinoa

1/2 cup (120 ml) green or brown lentils

3-4 cups (720-960 ml) vegetable broth or stock

freshly grated zest of one lemon

4 ounces (100 g) okra, washed, trimmed and cut into pieces

1/2 cup (120 ml) fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

1/2 cup (75 g) roughly chopped cashews or pistachios

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).  Grease a large covered casserole dish.

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat; add onion, carrot, garlic, chili flakes, ginger, cumin and coriander.  Stir until the vegetables start to soften and the spices are fragrant.   Add the quinoa and lentils and cook for a few minutes more.  Add the broth, lemon zest and okra and return to the boil. Remove from heat.

Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish, cover, and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the liquid is mostly absorbed.  Sprinkle with the cilantro and nuts before serving.  Makes 4 servings.  May be frozen.

Anti-Candida Variation: omit the nuts, or use chopped almonds instead.

Okra Masala

adapted from Indian Cooking Course by Manisha Kanani

okramasalatop

This is the perfect introduction to those wary of okra: keeping the pods whole prevents the juices from being released, and once the okra is cooked it’s not the least bit gooey inside.  Be sure the pods are very soft and cooked through (the color will darken to an olive green) for best effect.

1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) ground turmeric

1 tsp (5 ml) mild chili powder

1 Tbsp (30 ml) ground cumin

1 Tbsp (30 ml) gorund coriander

1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt

1/4 tsp (1 ml) agave nectar or Sucanat

1 Tbsp (15 ml) fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp (30 ml) finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) cumin seeds

1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) black mustard seeds

2 large tomatoes, diced

1 pound (450 g) okra or green beans, or a combination (washed and trimmed but not cut)

In a small bowl, combine the turmeric, chili powder, cumin, ground coriander, salt, agave, lemon juice and chopped cilantro (the mixture will still be fairly dry).

Heat the oil in a large frypan over medium heat and add the cumin and mustard seeds; fry for about 2 minutes, or until they begin to splutter and pop.

Add the spice mixture and continue to cook for another 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and okra and stir to coat well.  Lower heat to simmer, cover, and cook until the okra is very tender and most of the moisture from the tomatoes has evaporated, 25-35 minutes. Garnish with more chopped cilantro if desired.  Makes 4 servings. 

Anti-Candida Variation: Use 3-5 drops of stevia in place of the agave or Sucanat.

Last Year at this Time:Maple-Walnut Cookies

© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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