Ingredient Focus: Okra

(Recipe: Fried Pickled Okra)

friedokra

Another installment in the series where we feature a special ingredient and how it can be used in the kitchen.

Okra is in season and my mind started wandering back to my first experience with okra at university when a housemate threw it in a gumbo. After a couple bites, I let out a shrill scream because I thought someone had loogied into the pot. Clearly ignorant of its notable mucilaginous (thick, gluey) texture, I have since then kept my eye out for tasty recipes that attempt to tame the sliminess (although many embrace it!).

Originating around Africa and South Asia and cultivated in more tropical environments, these green seed pods with their tender innards actually resemble nopales (a type of edible cactus) in regard to their slimy texture, which helps in the storage of water and food for the plant. This consistency is most noticeable after it is cut and cooked. For this recipe, the slimy texture quickly developed once we sliced and salted them in order to drain some of their liquid. You can reduce the general sliminess by keeping the pods intact and only briefly cooking them.  Cooking methods include but are not limited to stir frying, roasting, slow cooking in a stew like gumbo, and steaming. You can find a variety of recipes utilizing okra that originate from Japan to India to South America. Trinidadians  enjoy the popular combination of macaroni pie and callaloo, which is a tasty goopy concoction made of okra, spinach, crab, and other seasonings..

Inspiration for this post, however, came from my lovely friend, Nessa, after I told her about my okra aspirations. She had been obsessed with fried pickles for months, and she immediately blurted out “fried pickled okra!” What better way to expand that obsession by experimenting with other pickled veggis. So we developed the following pickling liquid to cold pickle our okra. While we were at it, we threw in some green beans. The results were tangy, crisp, flavorful bites that still maintained their viscous texture. Now to fry them.

The breading and frying stage proved a bit more challenging with no less than 5 different variations until we came upon a combo that produced a light flavorful crispy coat that made us feel we were munching on bar snacks at a gastropub that were begging to be paired with a nice, frosty beverage. We can attest to the fact that they do pair nicely!

Cold Pickled Okra

Serves 6 as an appetizer.

Ingredients:

1 pound of fresh okra

1T of salt

2 cups apple cider vinegar

2 cups of boiling filtered water

4 sprigs of dill

1 tsp. yellow mustard seed

1 tsp seafood seasoning (like Old Bay)

1 tsp peppercorns

1T sugar

1tsp Cajun seasoning (Nessa’s homemade seasoning combined paprika, cayenne pepper, salt)

¼ habanero pepper sliced thin – 1 sliver for each jar pint jar

Instructions:

  1. Slice the okra in half and coat with 1T of salt. Set in colander in sink to drain. Let sit for at least 10-15 minutes.
  2. Place a sprig of dill at the bottom of each mason jar.
  3. Whisk the vinegar, mustard seeds, seafood seasoning, peppercorns, sugar, cajun seasoning in a non-reactive bowl.
  4. Rinse salt off of okra.
  5. Pour the boiling water into the vinegar mixture. Add the okra.
  6. Set the bowl of vinegar and okra inside of a larger bowl full of ice cold water to immediately start cooling.
  7. After the okra mixture cools, arrange okra pieces into mason jars and then fill to the top with the vinegar mixture. Make sure all vegetable pieces are completely covered with vinegar.
  8. Place in fridge to store and continue to pickle. It may keep up to several weeks if you manage not to eat them all beforehand.

Breaded Coating:

Ingredients:

Oil for frying (enough to cover about 1” in a deep frying pan) – We love grapeseed for its high smoke point, neutral flavor and reputation for increasing “good cholesterol”, but vegetable or peanut oil will do just fine.

1 cup of panko bread crumbs

½ cup of flour for dredging + 2T of flour for the breadcrumb mixture

1T of seafood seasoning (ex. Old Bay)

1 cup of buttermilk

⅛ tsp nutmeg

1 egg

Breading and Frying Instructions:

  1. Heat grapeseed oil.
  2. Drain okra and pat dry.
  3. Dredge okra in flour to coat outside.
  4. Dip in mixture of beaten egg, buttermilk and nutmeg.
  5. Toss in panko breadcrumb mixture with a fork to keep your hands clean.
  6. When oil is heated (before it starts smoking, and when a drop of water you flick into the oil bounces out), gently place coated okra pieces into the oil. Fry on each side for about 1 minute or until golden.
  7. Remove with slotted spoon or tongs and drain on paper towels and cool.
  8. Serve with (homemade) ranch dressing.

Recommended Drink Pairing: cold lager or your favorite cola.

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