Curry Grilled Okra

Here’s a fun party trick to find out who has some ties to the South.  Do a free association exercise with them—say a word and have them say the first word that pops into their head.  Try a few so as not to be so obvious, then spring “okra” on them.  If they immediately counter with “slime” well you know they came from, lived in, or have family from the South.  Pure Northerners will simply shrug and stare at you blankly.

Whatever your negative association or non-association with okra may be, I encourage you to give this artfully-shaped, fuzzy green pod a try.  Higher in protein than nearly any other veggie with a meaty texture to match, okra has a lot more to offer than slime.  In fact the slime can all but be eliminated depending on the cooking technique you use.

Even if you already love okra and embrace the slime, the possibilities of this veggie are most likely greater than what you have experienced.  Japan, India, Latin America and most of Africa regularly include okra in their meals with flavorings and preparation methods that expand beyond fried or gumbo.  This recipe is Indian inspired.  Grilling the whole pod eliminates slime altogether.  The piquant masala paired with the smoky flavor from grilling make this dish highly addictive.  On hot summer nights, we eat these spicy little treats like popcorn washing them down with a cold fruity beer.Okra--Curry Grilled

Buying, Storing & Preparing:  Okra is available in Wisconsin from August to October.  Buy them at the farmers market when you can as they can be hard to find in the off season at the grocery store. Some varieties can grow up to 7 inches and still remain tender, but unless your farmer verifies that her variety grows that long, get pods no bigger than 3 inches long.

Okra is extremely sensitive to cold and the flesh will begin to blacken if exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees F, so store in a paper bag wrapped in a canvas bag in the warmest part of the fridge. Freshly harvested okra stored like this can last up to 10 days.

Slicing into the seed pod releases the thickening agent or “slime” so trim cap by cutting just above the pod.

Okra--Cap trimmed II

Curry Grilled Okra
Author: 
Recipe type: Vegetable
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4 - 6 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 1 pound okra, 3 inches long; washed, caps trimmed
  • 1 t curry powder (or equal parts cumin, coriander, turmeric)
  • 1 t chili powder
  • ¼ t good garlic powder
  • ½ t regular salt
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 lime, sliced into wedges for garnish
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, add curry powder, chili powder, garlic powder, salt and mix.
  2. Add okra and toss. Drizzle in oil and toss further so that all the pods are uniformly coated with spice and oil.
  3. Using a wooden skewer soaked in water or a metal skewer, thread 6 or 7 okra. Threading a 2nd skewer through the okra, will prevent the okra from spinning on the skewer and make it easier to turn. Alternatively, line the grill with *non-stick aluminum foil, poke holes in it, and place the pods on the foil skipping the skewers altogether.
  4. Place okra on a heated grill.
  5. Grill for 7 – 8 minutes on each side over medium heat. Serve immediately, garnishing with lime juice.
  6. *Do not use cast iron, aluminum or exposed copper pots for cooking (especially frying or stewing) okra; it will cause the okra to turn black.

 

Okra--Grilled Ingredients

Okra--MasalaOkra--Grilled SkewersOkra--GrilledCooking with Kids:  Have the kids measure out the spices and mix them.  They can even toss and coat the okra; just have them use a spoon to do the job or find a lid to cover the bowl.  I have learned the hard way that little kids (at least mine) are not coordinated enough to toss oil, spices and veggies in an open bowl no matter how large the bowl and how few the okra.

Eating okra can be a challenge for kids and many adults. It’s a texture thing as the taste is very subtle.  Let the lime garnish help.  Kids seem to love the sour of citrus and the acid cuts the slime.   Drench their okra in lime juice for their first taste.

Squash Blossom Soup

My favorite thing about growing veggies or shopping at a farmers market is getting that legitimate thrill of the once-a-year-treat.  Once a year events fill us with nostalgia giving us a way to mark the seasons and measure our life’s journey.

Shopping at a grocery store does not give you this feeling.  One trip is much like the next, and the store, even the produce department, rarely reflect seasonal changes. Like the agricultural equivalent to Jimmy Buffet’s excuse, “It’s 5:00 o’clock somewhere,” everything is available all the time. “It’s grapefruit season somewhere.”

But some veggies because of their delicacy or perhaps limited demand, have escaped this industrialized fate.  Squash blossoms are one such item. When I see them at the market, their cheerful yellow petals call to me, and I buy them even if they weren’t on the list.

The first time I did this, I brought them home and began researching how to cook them.  Mexican and Latin American dishes often call for stuffing and/or batter dipping and frying.  Not my style–too labor intensive, too time-consuming, to messy, and just too much hullaballoo for a single meal.

Enter squash blossom soup. A few ingredients, a few minutes and you have a simple but decidedly delectable soup the color of sunshine.


Squash Blossom Soup
Author: 
Recipe type: Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4 - 6 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
  • 8 - 10 oz. squash blossoms, cleaned with stamens removed*
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • ½ t white pepper
  • ½ cup half and half (optional)
  • Garnish: chopped chives or a grated hard cheese like Mexican cotija or Italian Parmesan.
Instructions
  1. In a large sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat.
  2. Add chopped onion and salt and sweat the onions being careful not to brown them—about 5 minutes.
  3. Once transparent, add garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.
  4. Add stock, pepper and blossoms. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for about 5 minutes covered.
  5. Add half and half and cook another 1 minute. Remove from heat. Blend thoroughly with an immersion blender. Garnish and serve hot.
Notes
Squash plants are monoecius, meaning they bear both male and female flowers. The female flowers will develop into a squash, the male will not. Squash often bear only male blossoms at the beginning of the season and farmers will harvest them to sell at market. The pollen and stamen are extremely bitter so remove them completely and rinse each blossom thoroughly before cooking. I just use my fingers to tear the stamen off. Even one stamen left behind will result in an unpalatable soup.

Preserve It: Impossible to store.  Eat it now.

Cooking with Kids: Have the kids do the prep work.  My kids always want to fuss with flowers, and they also like to take things apart out of curiousity.  Let them go to town on the blossoms.  Make sure that you share the information about the bitter stamens.  Even have them taste them raw comparing the bitter stamen to the mild, pleasant flavor of the petal.