Spiced Okra and Tomatoes — Down-Home Comfort
I am an okra missionary. I love okra. Okra lovers passionately love okra in all manners of being. Boiled, fried, steamed, grilled, broiled, pickled, raw, whole, sliced, julienned — you name it, okra lovers love okra. Those who hate it think it's slimy, gooey and gummy. In my opinion, they haven't met the right okra.
Okra is perhaps most famous as a common ingredient in the classic Louisiana dish, gumbo. (Okra helps thicken Creole gumbo; the other choice for thickening gumbo is file, or sassafras powder.) It has a long history in Louisiana, as it was popular with the French colonists and thrives in the moist heat.
Fried okra is a Southern staple. Another classic combination is Okra and Tomatoes, a natural marriage; the flavors, textures and growing seasons are made for each other. In fact, both classic treatments are actually found almost every country that is hot enough to grow it – India, Greece, and Egypt, included. Both treatments are classic combinations that work. Okra and Tomatoes is old-school summer down-home comfort.
When buying okra, choose young, small pods no longer than 4 inches in length, depending on the variety. The larger pods are generally tough and fibrous. Okra pods should be firm, unblemished and brightly colored. Green is the most commonly available color, but you may also find red or deep burgundy varieties, and even pale green, almost white, ones, especially at local farmers markets. Avoid pods that are limp, bruised or blemished.
There are a couple of techniques that prevent okra from becoming too slimy. First and foremost, don't overcook it. When okra is cooked to just tender, it is fresh and crisp, not "ropy." The other technique is to cook okra with an acid. This recipe uses both tomato and a bit of wine. Okra lovers will love it, and who knows, maybe even a nonbeliever will be converted.
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y'all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all , among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.