Okra, you said?

I went looking for a recipe for okra, which I only make once or twice a summer when this odd, pod-shaped vegetable is in season. (I mean, in season in Maine; although it’s a much-admired vegetable throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, I’ve never seen okra in Italy.) One of the first recipes that came up was this one from the New York Times: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/2253-middle-eastern-style-okra

That’s actually my very own recipe. I don’t remember when I wrote it, and the Times website, alas, offers no clue, but it has my name attached. If you can’t access the Times website, there’s a more up-to-date version of the recipe below. I’ve also included my adaptation of an Indian recipe from Passionate Meals (https://tinyurl.com/yymhahu4) by the late, great Ismail Merchant whose food I enjoyed at the home he shared with James Ivory in Claverack, New York.

My okra comes from magnificent Beth’s Farm Market at White Oak Corner in Warren, Maine.

Okra the Lebanese Way

Okra, which I learned to love years ago in Lebanon, is most often prepared this way but some cooks add lamb to the dish, about a pound of lamb in small cubes, browned in oil, then add the okra pods to sauté for about 5 minutes. Turn the tomato sauce over everything and leave to cook for 30 minutes to an hour, until the both lamb and okra are tender.

Makes about 4 servings.

First make the tomato sauce.

This will probably make more than you need but it’s useful to have on hand. Any extra can be refrigerated for a week or frozen for longer.

  • One medium yellow onion, chopped small
  • One clove garlic, chopped
  • About ¾ cup chopped fresh fennel
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • One 14-ounce can of whole tomatoes, preferably imported San Marzanos
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of sugar if necessary

Combine the onion, garlic and fennel with the oil in a deep skillet and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables start to soften.

Drain the tomatoes, but keep the juice and set aside in case you need more liquid in the sauce later. Add the tomatoes to the skillet, breaking them up with your hands as you do so. Continue cooking over medium-low heat, breaking up the tomatoes as they cook down, adding a litte juice from time to time to keep them from scorching. Stir in the salt and pepper and taste the tomato sauce. If necessary, add a small pinch of sugar and stir it in.

Continue cooking for about 20 minutes, until the sauce is reduced and thick. Set aside to cool and then process slightly with a hand-held blender to make a chunky but well-blended sauce. You can do this ahead of time and refrigerate the sauce until you’re ready to prepare the okra.

For the okra:

If you’re bothered by the mucilaginous texture of cooked okra (I’m not), you can diminish that by trimming the okra pods in such a way that you don’t remove the stem end—just cut it back to the point where it joins the pod itself but don’t cut into the pod.

  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound fresh okra, trimmed as described above
  • 1 to 1½ cups prepared tomato sauce (above)
  • Sea salt if necessary
  • Juice of half a fresh lemon, plus lemon slices for garnish
  • ¼ to ½ cup minced fresh cilantro

Gently pound the coriander seeds in a mortar and set aside.

Add the oil to a skillet and set over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the okra pods and cook, stirring, until the pods just begin to brown a little along the edges.

Add a cup of tomato sauce and stir it in, adding a little more if necessary. The sauce should coat the okra pods but not bury them. Stir the coriander seeds into the sauce. If necessary, add a little water (or reserved tomato liquid). Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 to 30 minutes, checking from time to time to make sure the sauce is not drying up. Test the okra after 15 minutes and if necessary, continue cooking longer, until the okra is tender.
This can be served as is but in the Eastern Mediterranean, dishes like these are often made in the morning to be served at lunch, at room temperature. In any case, whenever you serve it, add a little fresh lemon juice and garnish with the minced cilantro and lemon slices.

Ismail Merchant’s Bhindi (Sauteed Okra)

Ismail’s trick for preventing the mucilage that comes with okra (and that, personally, I adore) is to avoid washing the pods and instead just wipe them with a damp cloth. I don’t know that it works but it’s worth trying. This is basically a stir-fry and could be easily done in a wok, if you have one.

Makes about 4 servings.

  • 1 pound okra
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced very thin
  • 1 green chili pepper, seeded and chopped fine
  • 1 large tomato chopped fine
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Pinch of dried red chili pepper
  • Big pinch of  turmeric
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Chopped fresh cilantro to garnish

Discard the ends of the okra pods and slice each pod into half-inch pieces.

Have ready a kettle of boiling water.

Heat the oil in a heavy-duty skillet or a wok and add the cumin seeds. Cook, stirring, until the cumin starts to brown and the fragrance rises, then immediately add the okra to the pan and continue cooking until the okra pieces start to brown. Add the onion and chili and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the tomato and mix, stirring in the red chili and turmeric. It will immediately thicken up. Add in about half a cup, no more, of boiling water and stir to make a thick sauce. Cook for just another minute or two—the onion slices should stay quite crisp to contrast with the softer okra.

Turn into a serving dish, add the lemon juice and cilantro and serve immediately.

  • Previous Post Next Post

    You Might Also Like

    No Comments

    Leave a Reply