Okra is one of South Carolina's greatest crops, but I hear you. It's slimy. Even the most adventuresome eaters can have a few texture issues, and okra is guilty of having one heck of a gross texture. Though I like it just about any way — stewed with tomatoes, in gumbo, breaded and fried — I get it. I want my children to love it, if only because it's cheap and plentiful in the summer. The way I make it? They eat it like french fries.
What's my secret? I roast it, with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper. The method is easy: cut the tops off first, slice each piece lengthwise, then roast cut-side up in a single layer until nice and crispy. (In my oven, this takes about 30 to 40 minutes at 375°.) Yes, slicing each piece lengthwise takes up a lot of room on the baking tray, but I love Tetris, so fitting each piece into the puzzle is fun. I am really good at Tetris.
Though I could serve it as a side dish, I've learned that it's more of an appetizer. Once the pan comes out of the oven, the kids (and anyone else who walks by) grab "just one" until there are about ten pieces left for dinner. I gave up trying to save them, so I serve them on a little dish, often with other roasted vegetables like new potatoes and turnips, and let people eat with abandon while I cook the rest of the meal.
The greatest endorsement of roasting as the best method for cooking okra came from Emile Defelice, a friend and fellow local food lover who started our town's all-local farmers' market. As a farmer who also happened to be one of the most avid promoters of local agriculture, Emile was deeply ashamed — I may be exaggerating, just a little, for effect — of his hatred of okra. Once he learned to roast it until crisp, he loved it! I feel so proud.
How do you feel about okra? What's your favorite cooking method?
(Image credits: Anne Postic)