I read a great description of the flavor of okra in one of my favorite cookbooks, “The Vegetable Butcher.” Cara Mangini writes that the vegetable combines “notes of eggplant, green beans and asparagus.” I think that’s just right.
If you have an okra plant, you know they are prolific if you pick the pods often. As Zeringue notes, “Okra have to be picked every day and served fresh or they’ll be too tough to eat.”
Tender okra pods that are about 2 to 3 inches long are best for this dish. If you can’t find a fresh stash at a farmers market or grocery, consider buying frozen okra and thawing it before cooking. If the okra is tender enough, you can simply slice it lengthwise from stem to tip. If it is a bit tougher, you may have to cut off the caps and tips.
Zeringue bought the 72-year-old Wayne Jacob’s Smokehouse, a restaurant and butcher shop in LaPlace, La., in 2016. The shop, which took a beating from Hurricane Ida in 2021, ships its meats around the country, so the salad — like most of the recipes in the cookbook — features smoked meats: in this case, thick-cut, crisped bacon.
He slices the tender okra pods from stem to tip, then roasts them until they start to brown in spots. Some people are turned off by okra’s slimy texture, which comes from its seeds and makes it a natural thickener for gumbos and stews. Roasting the tender pods — along with frying, grilling or pickling — helps to alleviate some of that texture.
Over the roasted okra, Zeringue tosses grape tomatoes, goat cheese, the cooked bacon and pecan halves. He dresses the whole thing with a bright lemon-shallot vinaigrette before running it back in the oven, just until the tomatoes start to slump and shrivel.
The pretty-as-a-picture salad, which takes about 30 minutes to make, can be served as a main dish when paired with crusty bread. It also would be great as a side, especially with grilled or smoked meat or fish. For color, use multicolored grape tomatoes. If you’re not a fan of goat cheese, try feta or even dabs of ricotta.
Warm Okra and Tomato Salad
Storage Notes: The salad is best if eaten right away, but you can refrigerate it for up to 2 days.
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For the salad
- 1 pound fresh okra, sliced lengthwise
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 cups (14 to 16 ounces) grape tomatoes
- 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese or feta
- 5 slices thick-cut bacon (about 5 ounces), cooked and coarsely crumbled
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) raw pecan halves
- Warm bread, for serving (optional)
For the vinaigrette
- 1 shallot, finely grated or minced
- Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Roast the okra: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
In a large, ovenproof skillet or pan, toss the okra with the olive oil, salt and pepper and arrange in a single layer as best you can. Transfer to the oven and roast 15 minutes, or until the okra is just starting to turn brown in spots.
Make the vinaigrette: While the okra is roasting, in a small bowl whisk together the shallot, lemon zest and juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Slowly add the oil, whisking constantly until emulsified.
Make the salad: Remove the okra from the oven, add three-quarters of the vinaigrette, toss to coat and again spread the okra in a single layer in the pan. Add the tomatoes, cheese, bacon and pecans and dot with the rest of the dressing. Return the pan to the oven and roast an additional 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes just start to shrivel.
Serve family-style, with warm bread, if desired.
Per serving (1 1/4 cups), based on 6
Calories: 393; Total Fat: 37 g; Saturated Fat: 7 g; Cholesterol: 15 mg; Sodium: 604 mg; Carbohydrates: 13 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugar: 5 g; Protein: 7 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
Adapted from “Southern and Smoked” by Jarred I. Zeringue (Pelican Publishing, 2022).
Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to email@example.com.
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