An important message:
As I enter my ninth month of pregnancy, I will be handing over my various jobs to loyal stand-ins. Melissa will take charge of phone calls, e-mails and customer service, and she will gradually begin her work this week. I request your assistance, patience and cooperation to make the transition smooth. For our part, we promise to check e-mail and phone messages daily. Please keep in mind that messages regarding changes in delivery dates and other requests for your boxes must arrive by the morning before the scheduled delivery date (i.e., Sunday for Monday boxes, Tuesday for Wednesday deliveries). The most convenient way for us to communicate is by e-mail, but if there is an urgent matter, text messages are an option as well. We can’t always answer the phone or access our e-mail.
And please be understanding if (when) mistakes or glitches occur. Of course we are happy to receive any advice you may offer.
Many thanks for your cooperation and assistance!
Okra- the Cinderella of the Vegetable World
This afternoon I received an e-mail from veteran clients, with “a small request, if possible. We love okra, we adore okra! And it has not been in our basket yet. Among the variety of vegetables that we get, is there a possibility to include it?” I smiled to myself, happy to meet confirmed okra lovers, the kinds who enjoy receiving it. The myth is that people of Ashkenazi origin can’t eat okra and do not appreciate it, but as a descendent of a German father who can eat okra for all three daily meals, I can vouch that fact being wrong. At our house too, okra is very much loved. The girls would rather I chop up the raw pods so I can serve them “stars” which they munch on. We adults prefer it cooked, roasted or stir-fried.
Okra began its domesticated path in the world over 1,000 years ago in tropical Africa, in the Ethiopia-Eritrea-Sudan area, where it can still be found growing wild today. From there it crossed the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia and took off to North Africa, the Middle East and India. It is not clear how this journey occurred, and there are very mysterious periods within okra history, but it became an officially loved food in all those countries. Okra arrived in Europe, compliments of the Muslim Moors in the 12th century. It made its debut in the new continent, America, by two sources: African slaves brought to work in the colonial colonies carried okra to Brazil and South America, and simultaneously French settlers brought it to Louisiana. Over the past decades it became a vaunted vegetable in the Asian kitchen, specifically the Japanese. So one does not have to be Egyptian or Greek to value this vegetable.
Okra is unique in its genealogy. It is a cousin of the chubeza–the mallow–and belongs as well to the Malvaceae family, which also includes cotton, hibiscus and hollyhock. Not many members of the family are edible, but they are rather beautiful, with large, beautiful flowers. This is what the okra flower looks like:
But despite its beauty, some people are put off by this vegetable. The reason generally cited is its “texture,” or in other words: “that slimy stuff that oozes out when it’s cooked.” That’s a pity, because that “slimy stuff” holds the okra in its Cinderella state, still in rags, waiting to be discovered for all its charms. There are many ways to diminish the slime, which I will get to soon, but let us first discover the charms of Cinderella.
One of the most amazing things about okra is that it can be used in a great variety of ways, some of which aren’t fully utilized today. We usually cook, roast or fry the young pods (3-5 days old), which is, of course, great. It is rich in vitamins K, A and C, and with folic acid, calcium, magnesium and potassium. The dietary fibers aid in preventing constipation and in stabilizing blood sugar levels by slowing down the process of sugar absorption in the digestive system. They also absorb cholesterol and remove stomach acids containing the toxins that did not pass through the liver’s filtering system. Its dietary fibers are unique in that they feed the good intestinal flora.
Yet its assets are not only in the pod fibers, but also in its little seeds: the oil produced from them is quite healthy and unsaturated, with characteristics resembling the lauded olive oil. The tiny seeds contain vegetal protein, like soybeans, and they are rich in tryptophan and contain amino acids- a very important combination for vegetarians. Ground okra seeds were used in the past (and in some places, in the present) as caffeine-free substitutes for coffee, like the chicory root.
As it matures, okra’s fibers grow more and more rigid (which anyone who ever tried to chew a mature pod can attest to) and hold an unfulfilled potential as raw material for the rope and paper industry.
So what about that “slime”? It too can be efficiently used to thicken soups and other dishes (sometimes okra pods are dried up and ground to be used for thickening, similar to gelatin) and some say it can be beneficial to heal wounds and soothe burns, like the gel inside the aloe vera plant.
But if you still would like to reduce the sliminess in cooking, there are several things you can do:
– Leave the pod whole (cut off the stem, but do not open the pod)
– Prepare quickly and easily by stir frying or frying, not by a long cooking with liquids.
– Combine with acidic foods: tomatoes, lemon juice or vinegar.
Another surprising and attractive use for okra is in arts and crafts. It can be used to make interesting dragons, or cut in its width to make gentle star-shaped stampers. Here are some pictures:
This week’s basket includes:
Monday: edamame or okra or cowpea, cherry tomatoes, yard long bean, cilantro, pumpkin, tomatoes, basil / parsley, onions, red peppers, potatoes, corn
In the large box, in addition: eggplants, more cherry tomatoes, melon or butternut squash, dill
Wednesday: pumpkin, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, corn, yard long bean or cowpea, cilantro or dill, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, popcorn
In the large box, in addition: okra, red peppers, butternut squash
Okra Recipes (I tried to find easy recipes, low on slime)
A special, spicy idea: Okra Croutons (from a great cookbook that Nati gave me: Vegetarian Soul Food by Angela S. Madris)
1 kilogram okra, sliced thinly
1 c. corn flour
1 t. salt
½ t. ground cumin
¼ t. cayenne pepper
Preheat oven to 190 degrees C. Rinse okra in a colander, drain and dry.
In a plastic bag, mix okra with cornflower, ½ t. salt, cumin and pepper. Tie bag and shake well.
Grease a baking pan with olive oil, spread okra in a uniform layer across the pan, and sprinkle olive oil over okra.
Bake for 10 minutes. Mix okra and sprinkle it with a bit more olive oil. Bake for an additional 15 minutes or until okra becomes golden brown and crisp. Sprinkle with remaining ½ t. salt.
Fried Okra, East-African Style (from the same excellent book as above)
3 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 T. garlic powder
2 t. curry powder
1 t. freshly-ground black pepper
12 small-to-medium okra pods, with sharp edges cut, but not the stems
1 c. vegetable oil
1 t. salt
In a small mixing bowl, combine lemon juice, garlic powder, turmeric, curry powder and pepper. Score okra lengthwise with a deep slit, so that it is in two parts, connected by the stem. Cover the okra well, inside and out, with spice mixture. Attach both halves to each other. Heat oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high flame until hot but not smoking. Fry okra for 3-4 minutes or until it browns.
Drain okra on a plate covered with paper towel to absorb the oil. Scatter with salt.
Genevieve and Barry, okra lovers, sent me these two recipes:
Okra in Tomato Sauce
½ kg okra
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic
½ kg tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper
Juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon sugar
A small bunch parsley or cilantro, chopped
Trim off the stems of the okra and rinse well. Fry the onion in the oil until golden. Add the garlic and fry until the aroma rises. Add the okra and sauté gently for about 5 minutes, turning over the pods.
Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, lemon, and sugar and simmer 15-20 minutes, or until the okra is tender and the sauce reduced. Stir in the parsley or kusbara and cook a minute more.
It’s delicious cold or hot.
Sweet and Sour Okra
½ kg okra
½-1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and pepper
Juice of 1 small lemon
[Optional: 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped, and 1½-2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds]
Trim off the stems of the okra and rinse well. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Add the okra and sauté gently for about 5 minutes, turning each pod over.
Add sugar, salt and pepper, the lemon juice, and just enough water to cover the okra.
Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the okra is tender and the liquid has reduced. Raise the heat if necessary to reduce the liquid at the end.
[Optional: heat the garlic and coriander in oil in a small pan, stirring, for a minute or two, until the garlic just begins to color. Stir this in with the okra and cook a few minutes more before serving]
And one more recipe: