The tropical okra plant is amazingly beautiful, from its flamboyant Georgia O’Keefe-esque golden hibiscus blossoms, to the perfect 2-3 inch pods that form within 2-3 days of the blossom, to the okra slices, which are bands of green around a pearlescent floral inlay of seeds.
Beautiful as okra is, harvesting it is not pretty. Like any beautiful woman, she needs to be skilled in self-defense. And since okra has no hands for judo or mace, she wraps herself in tiny spikes that prick any hands that seek to pluck her. The spikes are spikiest right where the pod attaches to the stem, so we put on cotton gloves and do our best not to rub against the leaves as we harvest. Of course we can’t help but touch the plants and our punishment is red and itchy hands and arms for the rest of the day.
Working on an organic farm where everything is hand-harvested often is an exercise in blood, sweat, and tears. But no pain, no pleasure. As Jason Hammel of Lula Cafe says, “Good food is trouble.” But the time and trouble and pain are worth it when you bite into a delicate okra pod. And, yes, I said delicate. Even though okra has a bad reputation amongst some, okra is NOT the slime creature from the black lagoon.
The trick to using okra in a stew is to sear the slices first. The dry heat upfront keeps moist pod juices hovering around the seeds. Cooking time is also crucial-- a relatively quick simmer is best.
Teresa’s daughters only like okra as Tempura, so if you're new to okra, try this, with or without ketchup.
About 3 cups vegetable oil, for deep-frying
1/2 cup flour
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup iced water
1 cup small okra
salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Heat a deep saucepan one-third full of oil until a breadcrumb sizzles in it (about 365 F)
- Place the flour, egg yolk and water in a bowl and whisk well to form a batter.
- Dip the okra into the batter mixture to coat and immediately place carefully into the hot oil. Cook in batches for one minute, or until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towels.
- Sprinkle lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper
Serve immediately with or without a dipping sauce. (Teresa’s girls like it with ketchup.)