MY LIFE IN OKRA

July 30, 2010

I’m about as biased as they come, but I think today’s guest blogger is pretty swell.  It’s my pleasure today to turn Blue Jean Gourmet over to Jill! –Nishta


I’ve eaten okra my whole life mainly because it has been a staple in my parents’ vegetable garden since, well, forever.  There it would stand – at least a full row of it, head high or more – in all its fibrous, stinging, yellow-blossomed glory.  The hotter the summer sun, the taller the okra and the more it needed picking.  It seemed to me, as a kid assigned the task of helping my mother gather garden vegetables everyday, that you could actually see the okra pods growing in their place on the stalk, they grew so fast.

I made my way down the row protected by a long-sleeve shirt and garden gloves, armed with a paring knife.  I bent the stalks down, cut the pods at their stems and dropped them into a 5-gallon bucket.  On any given day, the bucket would be at least half-full by row’s end, and I would do it all again the next day.   Do the math; we had a lot of okra.

I swore once I became an adult I wouldn’t sweat out my substance plowing, tilling, weeding and hoeing gardens or picking vegetables in the bald open sun.  But, here I am, ensconced in middle-age, growing year-round vegetables in our Zone 9 backyard.  And this time of year, after the beans and tomatoes and squash and cucumbers have all burnt up, the okra are just hitting their stride.  I have only a few plants, and they are a dwarf variety that don’t grow over 5 feet tall.  But, there they are every day – the feathery yellow blossoms, the long pods ready for harvesting, and the little buds behind them waiting to grow into their place the next day or so.

I enjoy okra prepared several ways, but my favorites are fried and pickled.   Both of them mitigate – or negate ourtight – the slime factor that sours many people toward this unique vegetable. Fried okra is a southern staple and many people swear by their family’s version of it.  I am no different; I claim without reservation that my mother’s fried okra recipe and technique (used also by her sisters and sisters-in-law, and which is now mine) is the best fried okra possible in our earth’s time/space continuum.  The pickled okra is a recipe I got somewhere along the way years ago and have adapted to my own peppery tastes.

Between the two of them – hot fried okra served on paper towelled dinner platters and spicy pickled okra pods served ice cold as happy hour fare – you’ve got late summer covered.

BILLIE JEAN’S FRIED OKRA


ingredients & tools:

a “mess” of okra pods  (anywhere from 15 pods 3-4″ long each to a full 5-gallon bucket full)

salt & pepper (although any of the salt-free seasoning blends can work)

flour (a cup or more depending on how much okra you have)

buttermilk (a half cup or more – plain sour yogurt cut with water would work too)

frying oil (vegetable, canola or peanut – enough so that the okra floats slightly in the skillet)

a paper grocery sack (a plastic bag will do)

a large slotted spoon

After rinsing, cut the okra crossways into pieces no larger than the end of your thumb.   Discard the heads.  NOTE: if your knife doesn’t easily slice the okra, the okra is “old” or “hard” and not fit to eat.  Toss it in the compost or trash.

In a bowl, combine the sliced okra, salt & pepper to taste, and enough buttermilk to thinly coat all the okra.  Stir well.  No buttermilk should pool at the bottom of the bowl.  When done right at this stage, it will look like a slimy, sticky mess.

Add at least a cup of flour to a paper bag.  Drop in the okra (no more than a double handful if you’re frying a large batch – you’ll have to fry in stages, if so).  Fold the sack top closed and shake well, holding the bag from the top as well as supporting it on the bottom.  Make sure all the okra is covered evenly in flour.  Set the okra bag aside.

In a skillet or frying pan, heat the oil to medium-high to almost high heat.  Test for frying readiness with a single piece of okra.  When the oil is ready, use your fingers to slightly drop clumps and pieces of the okra into the oil.  Just ease them in, moving them with the slotted spoon only minimally to make room.   Here is the key:  Don’t mess with it at all!  Let it sit frying in the oil – don’t move it around or stir it.  Just let it sit.

When the okra starts to brown underneath, gently – GENTLY – use a slotted spoon (and maybe a second spoon) to turn it over in the oil.  Do this as quickly as possible, but in a way that disturbs the okra the least.  When the okra is fully browned (only another minute or so usually), turn off the heat and begin taking it out onto a platter double lined with paper towels.   Don’t pat it – just let it sit for a minute or two to cool and to lose oil.

Eat with your fingers like popcorn.  Add more salt if needed.  Try not to go face down in it.  Share with others instead.

EASY PICKLED OKRA


ingredients & tools:

a quart jar with ring and lid

enough okra pods to fill the quart jar tightly packed

2-3 garlic cloves

2 sprigs of fresh dill (or a tablespoon of dried ground dillweed)

2-3 hot peppers (fresh or dried)

1 cup vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/8 cup salt

Rinse the okra and peel the garlic cloves.  Scrub the jar, ring and lid and rinse in very hot water from the tap. When the jar cools enough to touch, pack the jar with whole okra pods stood upright.  Pack in the dill, garlic cloves and peppers as well.  If using dried ground dillweeed, just spoon it over the top once everything is packed in.  Make sure nothing in the jar protrudes up beyond the lower edge of the lip of the jar.

In a boiler pot, add the water, vinegar and salt to make the brine.  Bring to a boil.

Pour the boiling brine into the packed jars.  Make sure nothing in the jar is left uncovered.  Seal the jars tightly.  Wait a week to open.  Best served cold after refrigeration.

Cauliflower, squash, cucumbers, banana peppers, long beans and carrots can also be pickled this way.

Dr. Jill Carroll is a public intellectual who speaks internationally on topics of world religion, religious tolerance, & religion and public life.  She grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana.  In addition to writing her own blog for the Houston Chronicle, she is Nishta’s spouse and the food stylist for Blue Jean Gourmet.

Share/Save/Bookmark

27 Comments »

  1. YUM. I’m on an okra kick after the fabulous version we had last week! Thanks for the recipes :D

    Comment by Ruthie J. — July 30, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

  2. I have never craved fried okra in the morning before in my entire life until this moment. I’m thinking fried okra supplanting hash browns for breakfast this weekend may be en queue!

    I love this blog!

    Comment by Nikki — July 30, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

  3. I had to beg my husband to take this fried okra away from me and now I wish I hadn’t. Those calories would have been worth it.

    Comment by Sharon — July 30, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

  4. The first time i was face to face with Okra was on my first day in Air Force basic training in San Antonio. As i made my way down the chow line the server in the back hoisted up a slotted spoon dripping with green slime. We didn’t ‘do’ okra in Los Angeles and oviously for good reason. One look was all it took to keep me from trying Okra for the next …. long, long time. But with Okra being a favorite of Cindy’s, perhaps i’ll try your tried and true family recipe soon.

    Comment by Lois — July 30, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Houston Foodie, Ruthie Johnson, Fulmer, Anne Sauer, JillCarroll and others. JillCarroll said: I'm pretending to be a foodie – RT @BlueJeanGourmet: "My Life in Okra"–a guest post on BJG from @jillcarroll: http://bit.ly/9t0D5Z [...]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention MY LIFE IN OKRA « Blue Jean Gourmet -- Topsy.com — July 30, 2010 @ 3:36 pm

  6. I buy fresh okra at the farmer’s market in Navasota. I follow the instructions carefully and it still isn’t as good as I want it to be.
    Perhaps I will try again tomorrow.
    Personally I think there is some Southern Woman Secret that those of us born “up there” will never figure out. But I sure do like fried okra.

    Comment by Sally — July 30, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

  7. WOW! How did all these comments get written in the future? ha ha

    Comment by Jan Johnson — July 30, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

  8. Thank you for the tried-and-true flour-based fried okra recipe! All my family recipes and old southern cookbook finds use cornmeal, or some cornmeal combination, for crisping while frying the okra. I discovered as an adult that I’m allergic to corn, and I have missed the wonder of fried okra with southern cooking. I love the family story, and I look forward to trying both recipes and reading more of your personal story.

    Comment by Sue — July 30, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

  9. Being a good Southern girl, I have eaten a lot, I mean A LOT, of fried okra in my time. And this is the best there is. As my gramma would say, it is laropin’ (pronounced lair-, rhymes with hair, oh- like the letter, pin, like the end of any -ing word in the South, emphasis on the lair-).

    Comment by Courtney — July 30, 2010 @ 10:01 pm

  10. The sight of okra seduced me in to your web. What a website too! Beautiful photos, delicious southern food. I grew up in Texas (Dallas/Ft. Worth) and now reside in Oregon. My partner lived in Houston and both of us have eaten all over the state. I will come back often.

    The fried okra even looks too hot to touch. Congratulations.

    Comment by Charles — July 31, 2010 @ 1:48 am

  11. Thanks to all of you for the comments! I’m so happy that those of you who’ve tried this particular fried okra liked it so much. My uncle and I picked a big mess of okra yesterday afternoon from my parents’ garden and my mother cooked it for us last night for supper – a heaping platter of crispy goldenness – and the 4 of us finished it off completely. Yay okra!

    Love, Jill

    Comment by Jill Carroll — July 31, 2010 @ 2:12 pm

  12. Man, haven’t had fried Okra in SOOOOOOO long, for it was my grandparents’ garden that supplied all the summer veggies and like you I spent many a day picking it and my Grandma did the frying. Great memory, thanks for the reminder!

    The GeoBroad
    The GeoBroad and Dot Spot at WordPress

    Comment by GeoBroad — August 2, 2010 @ 12:35 am

  13. [...] The recipes were as follows (SUPER thanks to Nishta and Jill over at Blue Jean Gourmet for the okra guidance): [...]

    Pingback by Fort Kale Plays Refrigerator Roulette, Finds Southern Comfort Food « FORT KALE — August 9, 2010 @ 11:03 pm

  14. [...] share my life with another Southern girl—and if you missed her beautiful okra post from last week, I dare you not to fall in love with her fried & pickled versions.  Jill and I [...]

    Pingback by TOMATO-CORN PIE « Blue Jean Gourmet — August 10, 2010 @ 1:07 pm

  15. I have been waiting for this fried okra recipe for ages, and then the one time it goes up, I somehow MISS IT? Agh. Travesty.
    Anyways.

    Not only does the fried okra sound amazing (and I will be making it soon) but the pickled okra makes me want to make it and then put it in a martini. Instead of an olive. That’s right, I said it.

    Comment by Joh — August 10, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

  16. OKRA! YEAH~!! i never liked the slime factor myself but once mom showed me this i was hooked slime and all!! just simply cook and season your butter beans and then toss in cut okra and simmer until tender. I never thought id eat slimy gooey okra but i love this too!

    Comment by Celeste — August 18, 2010 @ 9:44 am

  17. [...] who knows when I might end up eating something like Jill’s fried okra. And trust me friends, Jill Carroll’s Fried Okra is something you want to be eating. These little nuggets of fried deliciousness are enough to make [...]

    Pingback by Pretty Girls Use Knives - Johanna » Blog Archive » Fried and Fabulous — August 26, 2010 @ 8:21 am

  18. I would choose fried okra over any other side dish when it comes to good southern cooking. Heck I would pick okra instead of a wedding cake. humm, maybe new idea?? Okra cupcakes? Ok, focus now. I want to ask if you ever fry those lushious green pods lengthwise versus cut into thumbsize pieces? maybe cut ‘em in half vertically? make it easier to dip ‘em in a sauce? flying cajun

    Comment by Janice Guidry — September 2, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

  19. [...] with my fingers, slapping it onto bread slathered with mayo and layering it with a few spears of Jill’s pickled okra for the best midnight sandwich ever.  I even like making turkey soup, simmering the carcass with [...]

    Pingback by VEGETARIAN BLACK BEAN CHILI « Blue Jean Gourmet — November 22, 2010 @ 1:05 pm

  20. [...] is also a gardener, the instinctive kind.  She grew up, as you can read here, tending huge vegetable beds under the supervision of her parents, and continues that tradition by [...]

    Pingback by SHRIMP, POTATO, & TOMATO SALAD « Blue Jean Gourmet — July 12, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

  21. I lost my once excellent fried okra mojo decades ago and grow it for gumbo only. This recipe fixes that. It’s foolproof and there are no leftovers no matter how much I make. Thank you!

    My Austin SIL thanks you for this blog because with all the short okra nowadays, her co-workers thinks she’s nuts when she says okra used to grow 5′ tall.

    Comment by Hane — July 19, 2011 @ 8:49 am

  22. OK Just made a batch of your pickled okra and can’t even wait for a week to go by to open them because they look soooo goooood!!!

    Comment by mandy — July 29, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

  23. Tonight just made a batch of your fried okra and OMG it was soooooo gooooood!!!!

    Comment by mandy — July 30, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

  24. This is the perfect way to make fried okra! Thank you for the recipie as i never could get it to do right!!

    Comment by mandy — July 30, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

  25. mandy–so glad you enjoyed the okra recipes! that fried okra is addictive, right?

    Comment by Blue Jean Gourmet — August 3, 2012 @ 8:46 pm

  26. yessss very addictive. My husband has been making it by this recipe and he just loves it. Im putting up pickled okra before i go to bed tonight saving the larger pieces to fry tomorrow. We were well blessed with okra this year and so these recipes have been used and enjoyed all summer. Thanks again!

    Comment by mandy — September 3, 2012 @ 9:34 pm

  27. As a Minnesota girl I wasn’t too acquainted with okra and my brief brushes with it were not good. I learned from someone that to avoid the slimyness you cooked it very briefly. I haven’t tried it deep fried but when adding it to anything soup or sauteed vegetables I wait until the last 20 seconds throw in the pieces and serve. Stays crispy and bright green and we love it. A neighbor pushed a few seeds in our garden and two plants give us some every day. Amazing like the story of the loaves and fishes.

    Comment by Mary Gallagher — October 5, 2013 @ 11:20 pm

Leave a comment