So I moved south this summer, you had to know a post about okra was going to show up eventually. And this is it. There are several vegetables the that just seem synonymous with the geography: black-eyed peas, peppers, melons, and okra. Although I may now be favoring a lesser known favorite cousin, the cream pea over the black-eyed more popular pea (if you can find them fresh, snap them up quickly), I have been enjoying all of these Southern specialties all summer long. And since Texas gets two growing season, the produce started before I showed up and will continue for a while longer.
Okra is beloved in the South, but is often passed over elsewhere. People don't know what to do with it or have had it poorly cooked and decided they didn't like it. I might have thought the same thing. But when I was younger my parents took us on a road trip down to the boot heel of Missouri. Southern Missouri is low down, back woodsy, and fond of okra. I remember trying freshly fried okra served family style at restaurant in town. It was crisp and delicious and I fell in love with the flower cross-section sliced okra made. It was such a cute vegetable.
Aside from being cute on the outside, they are loaded with good stuff inside. Okra is lush with folate (22% of your daily value in one half cup serving), vitamin A, K, and manganese; things you need to keep your mucus membranes healthy, bones strong and your blood clotting enzymes happy.
This vegetable originates from Africa, and is often stewed and pickled. I confess to liking both of these preparations. When you are in doubt of how to prepare an ingredient remember the adage, "what grows together, goes together." Tomatoes and okra, are season buddies and culinary best friends. Just this month at a middle eastern market in town, with a lunch counter, my husband shared an incredible stew of tomatoes and okra. The okra was silky and bathed in olive oil and tomatoes, not at all the slimey, overcooked mess it can become when poorly treated. It was then when I knew it was time for me to start cooking more, and like this.
So when I was cooking a North African tagine for dinner last night, I looked at what was in the pan, tomatoes, eggplant, chickpeas, onions, and I knew the okra I had in the fridge wanted to join the party. It was excellent.
With the some green olives and raisins, it is a classic tagine, and aside from a bit of chopping, an easy dinner. I paired it with some tri-colored couscous I had lurking in the cupboard and a squeeze of lemon, and we declared it a dinner success.
When I make this again I will probably spring for the better olives that would really shine here (I just used the jumbo pimento stuffed ones I had in the fridge) and add some preserved or pickled lemon to the mix as it simmers instead of just a bit of lemon at the end.
Tagine of Eggplant, Okra and Olives
adapted from Didi Emmons
3 T. olive oil
2 cups onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 t. paprika
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. cumin
6 plum tomatoes, chopped (or substitute good quality canned)
1/2 cup water
1 small pinch saffron
1 eggplant, cut into 1/2 cubes
1 cup green olives, pitted
1/2 lb. okra, sliced 1/2 inch thick
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup chick peas
Heat a heavy saucepan to medium high heat, add the olive oil and when shimmering add the onions. Saute for five minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic, paprika, ginger, and cumin and saute fro 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes, safdron, eggplant, raisins, lives, okra, water, salt and pepper. Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the chickpeas. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve over couscous with lemon (if you didn't add a pickled lemon to the tagine while cooking).
Do you like okra and how do you like to cook it?