I know what so many of you think about okra, because I hear it all the time. Slimy. Unappealing.
I won’t argue the first point, because that’s a verifiable fact. But I will take issue with the second, partly because I don’t consider okra’s texture a deal-breaker. If you do, some cooking methods — particularly my go-to technique for so many vegetables, high-heat roasting — can reduce the slime factor. (My favorite ways to eliminate it entirely are frying and pickling, but I save those for when I have much more time than on a typical weeknight.)
You can also combine okra with other things, so the slime is either absorbed or less noticeable, or you can cook it a little less, so it stays crunchy and fresh — especially if you choose smaller pods, which are less fibrous and packed with fewer seeds.
I thought of both of those techniques when I remembered a recipe for okra cornmeal cakes in my friend Virginia Willis’s 2011 book, “Basic to Brilliant, Y’all.” A Southerner through and through, Willis makes no apologies for okra, thankfully, and I knew her treatment would bring out its fresh, grassy flavors.
What do you do? Make a quick cornmeal batter into which you fold sliced okra and fresh corn kernels, spike it with a little jalapeño and garlic, then pan-fry it into little or bigger griddle cakes, depending on the occasion (cocktail party or casual lunch or supper). In keeping with her book’s schtick, Willis suggests a “brilliant” upgrade: to neatly layer the cakes with goat cheese or ricotta and thickly sliced tomato and stack them, Napoleon style. I was inspired by the jalapeño and thought about a Mexican direction instead, keeping the tomato slices but sprinkling them with feta (my usual stand-in for cotija or queso fresco), pumpkin seeds and cilantro.
As all the best recipes do, it inspired me to imagine a year’s worth of rotating seasonal treatments using the same concept: Black beans and cubes of roast pumpkin could go into the cakes this fall, asparagus and fava beans in the spring. But in late summer, the stars are corn and okra, the latter without a smidgen of slime.
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