An occasional series in which staff members share a recipe that we turn to time and again:
May, our foreign exchange student, sat down to dinner with my family. She and I were 13. She glanced at her plate, intrigued by what she saw: boiled okra. It was a summer staple on our Oklahoma table, but she had never tried it.
She piled her fork, lifted it and immediately flared her nostrils as she stared at the strands of okra ooze. Terror.
I knew that look well. I had given that same face to my mother after watching the 1979 movie "Alien." She served me a glass of milk -- what she regarded as healthy and bone-fortifying. What I saw in that glass was runny android blood.
I could only imagine how this young girl from China regarded her okra portion. Misplaced egg whites? Alien goop? "You don't have to eat anything you don't like," I said. May's forkful never passed her lips.
Okra is by far my favorite vegetable, but I'm well aware that the furry green pods cause polar attraction and repulsion. Its innards deserve the description "mucilaginous."
Downright slimy. But I love it, because okra reminds me of my grandparents, who grew it on their farm and taught me how to harvest and cook it. When I make okra, I remember the hot summer days of my youth and the way that my fingers stung after I picked the spiny pods from their stalks.
The key to okra slime is to use it or lose it. Although I don't mind the slime, one way to eliminate it is to add a tablespoon of vinegar to the water that okra's being boiled in. Another way is to wash, dry and freeze the fresh pods overnight, then slice the frozen pods with a sharp knife. If you are going to saute the okra, use as little extra liquid as possible.
Frying is an option as well. The breaded coating acts as a mask and an absorbent for the mucilage or liquid that's released once you cut into a pod. Trimming off just the tips also will reduce the slime.
Several years ago, I discovered a great way to use it: okra curry. When sauteed with coriander, cumin and turmeric, okra's slightly sweet, nutty flavor stands out, and its texture contrasts nicely with the curry's onions and tomato.
It's a dish I think even May would like.
This recipe is adapted from a collection of Indian recipes at www.uwajimaya.com/recipes/recipes.asp. Serve over white or basmati rice.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 green (cayenne) chili peppers, stemmed and chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon garam masala*
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 pound okra, cut into 1-inch pieces, ends trimmed
1 large tomato, seeded and diced, unpeeled
2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, for garnish (optional)
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it thins out across the pan, then lower the heat to medium. Add the onions, chili peppers, turmeric, cumin, garam masala and salt to taste. Cook the onions until they are soft, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the okra and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the tomato and lemon juice and combine well, simmering for an additional 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro, if desired. Serve warm. May cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
*NOTE: Garam masala is an Indian spice blend available in some supermarkets and specialty stores.
Per serving: 174 calories, 4 g protein, 19 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g saturated fat, 87 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber
Recipe tested by Laurie Burkitt; e-mail questions to email@example.com
-- Laurie Burkitt
Laurie Burkitt, an aide for the Editorial Page staff, fries okra just about every Thursday night.