Okra

Okra plants in July.

Okra plants in July.

Prepared properly, okra is a delicious vegetable that adds a lot of interest to peak-of-summer food. Okra is very much a warm season crop; generally speaking, the hotter it is, the better okra tends to produce. We have a love/hate relationship with this crop. We’ve found it to be fairly reliable, with few serious pests, but it requires very regular picking attention…and picking must be done with a long-sleeved shirt and long pants (and sometimes gloves) because contact with the plants can cause intense irritation to the skin. The hotter it is, the more picking there is to do. However, we love to cook and eat it, both fresh & preserved.

HANDLING & STORAGE

Okra has a short shelf life at refrigerator temperatures; refrigerator temperatures are actually too cold for okra and refrigeration causes chilling injury. Okra does best stored around 50ºF, which is our target temperature for storage from harvest to distribution. Unfortunately, that is a hard temperature to achieve in most home kitchens. We advise using okra within a day or two of receiving it; refrigeration is acceptable for the short intervening time. For longer storage, chuck it in the freezer; see below.

IN THE KITCHEN

Okra sometimes has a bad reputation for being slimy. The trick of using okra in the kitchen is to either get rid of this sliminess (as in the pan-cooked okra below) or to use the sliminess to your advantages (as for a thickener in soups & stews).

Simple pan-cooked okra: Chop the okra it into ~1/4″ rounds, heat a frying pan or cast-iron skillet on medium heat, add a little butter or other cooking fat of choice, and cook the okra, salting to taste. Stir occasionally, letting the okra brown slightly. Okra is done when the strands of mucilaginous gunk disappear. At this point, sliminess is history, and the simple deliciousness of the okra shines through.

Pan-fried with cornmeal: Similar to above, except toss first with a bit of oil and enough cornmeal to coat. A touch of salt really brings out the corn flavor. Any cornmeal that falls off and fries in the fat is a tasty treat as well. There are also many Indian/Asian recipes that call for basic pan-cooking with a variety of peppers and other flavorings.

In soups and stews: Okra is excellent for thick soups and stews, less so for thinner broth-dominated soups. Saute it early on with other bases like onions and garlic, then allow the soup to slow-cook and thicken naturally. Chili, bean stew, gumbo, and so on are great with okra added. Along similar lines, okra is excellent in various Indian dishes.

PRESERVATION

Freezing okra couldn’t be easier. We literally just put in a bag and put the bag in the freezer. Though many sources advise blanching, we’ve never detected quality problems as a result of not doing so, and we suspect that blanching would bring out the sliminess. To use frozen okra, defrost slightly, then slice & cook as usual. We find that a minute or two on the counter is enough; you want it just soft enough to get a knife through while holding together; fully thawed and it’ll be soft and slimy. Frozen okra is especially well suited for use in winter stews, though we have used it for pan-fried okra with quite acceptable results.

We’ve made canned vinegar pickles from okra. To be honest, we would NOT recommend it. Multiple attempts have all yielded inferior results (soft, not crunchy). If you have a recipe/method that works, feel free to let us know. This is the okra pickle recipe we didn’t like.

A fermented version of okra pickles is on our list of things to try soon; we expect the results to be crispier and tastier than the version that involves vinegar & a boiling water bath.

Okra dehydrates really well; see photo below. Dehydrated okra makes a nice addition to soups/stews. Just toss some in the pot and let it simmer a while.

produce_okra_dried

VARIETIES WE GROW

Burmese: A variety that stays tender even when the pods get relatively long. We’ve tried others and keep coming back to this one. If you’re used to other okra, do not panic or recoil if you get long, scary pods from us: they really are tender and usable. This is the beauty of Burmese. It’s a lot more efficient for us because we can afford to let them get a bit bigger, and if we miss a pod during one picking we have a chance at it again during the next picking.