Picking raspberries is simply addictive. I find that I get into an almost meditative state out in the raspberry patch. Ultimately, I end wandering into the farthest reaches of the bushes seeking the plumpest red or pink berries and then suddenly looking up and wondering, “How did I get here?”. I even managed to let a pricker bush hijack my shirt this afternoon. The shirt is ruined, but boy, did I score some great berries! Hope you find some meditative peace in your week, whether in the prickly raspberry patch or somewhere else that is special to you! However, the raspberries are almost gone, so don’t miss out on getting your last taste of the season.
My grandparents introduced me to okra as a child. It wasn’t a well known, popular, or easy to find vegetable in California at the time, but my grandfather was able to acquire some from the large farm he worked for. My grandparents had spent a couple of years in Georgia before I was born and they brought three things back to California with them–a love for pan-fried okra, a passion for peaches, and a few key Southern phrases. My grandparents died while I was in college, before I became a seasoned cook, so unfortunately my grandmother never taught me how she made her crunchy, addictive okra. It was years before I rediscovered this wonderful vegetable, at first as sad, lifeless, overlooked sentries in supermarkets, and later in farmer’s markets and CSAs. I am so glad to see them this year at Holcomb Farm.
Unfortunately, okra has had a bad rap as “that slimy” vegetable. While it is true that okra contains a unique mucilaginous material, it’s texture becomes slimiest with long, wet cooking techniques, which is why okra is revered as a thickener for soups and stews. However certain quick cooking methods like roasting or frying yield tender, delicious results with a much reduced slime factor. Do try okra several different ways before you give up on it entirely.
Okra was first cultivated in the Nile region by the Egyptians. While it may not seem like a very well known or popular vegetable, it goes by so many names because of its international ties, that one would think it is one of the most common of beloved foods. Some of these names include, lady fingers, Gombo, Bamia, Bendi, Okro, and Bhindi. It is thought to be a member of the mallow family, along with cotton and hibiscus (strange family indeed!). Okra is a surprisingly versatile plant, with a history of uses that include being produced into rope and paper. Its seeds have even been used as a substitute for coffee beans during hard economic times. I even came across a “recipe” for using a slimy okra concoction on one’s hair for body and bounce!
So it appears that okra is versatile, ubiquitous, and maybe kind of strange, but is it good for you? It turns out that okra is uber healthful. For one, it is a very low calorie vegetable (30 kcal per 100 grams), but it also contains a good amount of dietary fiber, which helps with satiety, regulating blood sugar, and aiding digestion. The mucilage in okra is also a substance that is thought to feed the good bacteria in our guts (this a good thing!), carry cholesterol and toxins out of the liver, and soothe and aid the gut. Okra is also high in key vitamins and minerals such as folate; Vitamins A, C and B complex; calcium; potassium; and iron. It is also chock-full of anti-oxidants. Heck, it sounds like a super food!
When one thinks of food preparation for okra, thoughts pretty often stop at fried okra and gumbo. But there are so many other ways to enjoy this vegetable. Believe it or not, okra can be eaten raw as well as cooked. A scan of the Internet yielded a ton of ideas for preparing okra. Here are some of my favorites:
Gumbo and other stews, soups
- Turkey Sausage Gumbo (click here)
- Okra Creole (click here)
- Traditional Southern Okra Soup (click here)
Grilled (see recipe below)
Roasted (see recipe below)
- Roasted Okra Chips (click here)
- Okra, Tomato and Pepper Salad (click here)
- Simply Raw Okra with Salt and Pepper (click here)
- Raw Curried Okra Salad (click here)
- Cheese and Bacon Stuffed Okra Poppers (click here)
- Indian Spiced Stuffed Okra (click here)
- Peanut Stuffed Okra Fingers (click here)
Choose smaller pods that are bright colored, with no soft or brown spots. Larger pods are often tough. Store in plastic or a vegetable bag in the refrigerator where it will last about 1 week.
This method of cooking okra is positively addictive. The high heat roasting seems to dry out much of the mucilage so it becomes tender but not slimy. Try adding other spices or seasoned salts to liven up the recipe.
Simple Roasted Okra Serves 4
– 1 quart okra pods, washed and dried well with paper towels
– 1 tablespoon coconut oil or high heat oil of choice, melted
– Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425℉. Spray or brush rimmed baking sheet well with some coconut oil. Cut off tops of okra and slice the rest of the pod into 1/4” slices. Place in a bowl and toss well with melted coconut oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Roast immediately after cutting and coating with oil, turning every 4-6 minutes, until browned, caramelized, and tender. Be careful because at this high heat okra can burn easily. Serve immediately.
Grilling okra is a great option, especially for nights when you already have the grill on and need a quick side dish.
Simple Grilled Okra Serves 4
– 1 quart fresh okra, washed well and dried
– 1 tablespoon melted refined coconut oil, or other high heat oil of choice
– Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat grill to about 400℉. Place the whole okra in a large bowl and toss with melted coconut oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Skewer okra crosswise on soaked wooden skewers or metal skewers (for long okra, use two skewers side by side). Place on the grill and close grill. Cook for about 4 minutes. Turn okra, re-cover the grill and cook for another 3-4 minutes on the second side. You want the okra to soften and lightly blacken in a few spots, but you don’t want the skin completely charred. If it seems to be charring quickly, reduce the heat on the grill before continuing. Once finished, remove okra from the grill and allow to cool a bit before removing from skewers. Serve.
The dressing on this salad is one of my all time favorites. It’s strong flavor stands up well to the full, almost cabbagey flavor of the Tatsoi. If you prefer milder greens, mix the Tatsoi with some traditional lettuces.
The roasted cauliflower is so good, you’ll have to control yourself or you’ll eat it all up before it gets on the salad!
Spanish Style Roasted Cauliflower and Tatsoi Salad Serves 4
– 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
– 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
– 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
– 1/4 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
– 3 cloves garlic, minced
– 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
– 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
– 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
– 5 cups Tatsoi leaves, washed and dried
– 1/2 large cauliflower, or one small
– 1 large roasted red pepper can be from a jar; thinly sliced
– 1 tablespoon capers, drained
– Thinly shaved Manchego cheese
– 1/2 cup multi grain croutons
- Using a hand or stand blender, blend all dressing ingredients until smooth and emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Preheat oven to 400℉. Spray a rimmed baking sheet well with coconut oil spray. Remove any leaves from cauliflower and cut core off flush with the bottom of the cauliflower. Turn cauliflower over stem side down on work surface. Cut into thin slices from top to bottom. Some pieces will be like large cauliflower steaks and some will be small florets. Place all cauliflower pieces flat side down on baking sheet and separate as best as possible. Spray again well with coconut oil spray. Season well with salt and pepper. Bake for about 8-10 minutes. Turn pieces over as best as possible, sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper, and return to the oven for another 6-8 minutes. Keep turning and baking until cauliflower is lightly browned and is fairly tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature while preparing the rest of the salad.
- Place tatsoi leaves in a large bowl. Toss with half of vinaigrette. Taste for desired level of dressing and add more if desired. Divide dressed tatsoi leaves among four salad plates. Top with cooled cauliflower and red pepper strips. Sprinkle with capers, shaved Manchego, and croutons. Serve immediately.