Give okra a try

Okra produces a wide variety of reaction from customers, ranging from YUM to EW to HUH? Fresh okra is delicious, but it’s not surprising that okra has a bad reputation among some, as it can be slimy and tough if overgrown or old. Also, it doesn’t store or transport well, so if it’s been sitting very long it’s not going to be very good. We only sell okra harvested within a few days of market, to keep it tasty and fresh.

We grow two varieties, a standard Clemson Spineless and a more unique Burmese. The latter is paler than other okra, and can grow much larger than usual while still being tender and flavorful. These can be 8-10″ long and still taste great, not hard or nasty like other okras get at that stage. This claim is backed up by both our employees’ raves, and reviews from Sycamore Restaurant and Uprise Bakery, who have been buying and approving of it. To the several customers who have argued with me about Burmese’s size: everyone who tries it understands that it’s not the same as others’ overgrown okra that looks similar. Give it a try.

Okra is best used within a few days of purchase, partly because it is hard to give okra perfect storage conditions at home. Okra is subject to chilling injury if stored in too cold of a spot in the refrigerator, but room temperature is definitely too warm. It is best stored at temperatures of 45-50 degrees, and we come close to those conditions by storing okra between harvest and market in our walk-in cooler, which we maintain at about 55 degrees (a compromise between ideal temperatures for tomatoes, okra, zucchini, and cucumbers).

We like okra best when it’s sauteed or fried. Just heat some oil or butter in a skillet, chop the okra into 1/2″ rounds, maybe coat it with some cornmeal & salt, then fry or saute it until the “goo” is gone but the okra is still tender. These have a great flavor on their own and make a nice side dish or main meal. Okra freezes well & easily; just throw them whole into a Ziploc-type bag and chuck in the freezer (don’t blanch or they’ll turn really slimy). The texture won’t be as good on its own, but it adds great flavor and structure to soups and stews throughout the winter.

Our okra is really producing now, so we’d like more people to try it. This week we’ll have two pricing structures, a higher price for small “normal” okra and a lower price for the larger Burmese. This is our attempt to convince customers the Burmese is in fact edible and not just the result of a lazy or uneducated farmer, and to reflect the basic economics in which picking small okra lowers our yields per area and thus needs to cost more. We can let Burmese grow longer, getting more yield with less picking, and thus we can charge less for it. If you really want little okra, you’ll have to pay for the extra work it takes. Our prices also reflect the fact that we’re not bringing the entire week’s harvest to market, only the few days before.

If you’ve ever picked okra, you understand. The plants are tall, leafy, and prickly. There’s something in the plants which really irritates the skin; after picking long rows, my arms & hands feel like acid has been poured on them. We’re moving toward using gloves and long shirts, but it’s often so danged hot during okra season that those have their own problems. Hunting for the one or two fruits in a tall, jungly plant takes time, and care in order to cut them off without damaging the plant.

But oh, is good okra good.

2 thoughts on “Give okra a try

  1. Not that I disagree with treating okra simply, but if there were ever a finer vegetable to "Indian-ize" (i.e. the subcontinent's cuisine), this is it! Okra holds up fantastically well to the wonderful spices of India. Start some onions, add some garlic and/or ginger (ideally as paste), add garam masala (or an Indian mix of spices you like), then add the okra. Cook until the okra reaches your desired done-ness.YUM.

  2. You're right, I neglected that entire realm of possibilities. Given the number of Indian women shopping for okra at market, you'd think I wouldn't have left it out. But my instincts with okra are still more Southern. I need to remember to branch out, your way. Thanks.