If you don’t follow me on Facebook, then you weren’t privy to the conversation going on yesterday about okra and its persistent sliminess and how to avoid the slime.
(Though, let’s be serious, if you don’t follow me on Facebook, you’re missing out! Click. Like. Talk to me. Pleaseandthankyou!)
Some people don’t mind the slime too much. I think of them as hardy, salt of the earth folk. The kind who can eat anything, cold or hot, and are thankful for it. The kind who like relish in their deviled eggs, boiled eggs in their potato salad, and raisins in their oatmeal cookies.
I know these people exist, and I honor their existence. I, however, am not one of them.
I have, shall we say, texture issues. Spring rolls are a no-go for me because I feel like I’m eating a condom. Tofu is out because I feel like I’m eating hydrated styrofoam. You remember that gum, cherry-flavored, that used to be popular, and when you first bit down on it, cherry gummy filling squirted out? The same phenomenon was replicated in a fruit snack catastrophe for children called Gushers. Yeah, that stuff’s nasty.
I want my food whole and texturally pleasing, and please, oh God, please don’t let anything gush or squirt out of it.
So needless to say, the slime on okra bothers me. I remember watching my step-dad eat it, the one time I could actually recollect ever seeing okra consumed. Each green stalk was covered in clear slime that looked as if an alien had sneezed on it. It dripped. It oozed. It looked sticky and slick at the same time. I wouldn’t touch it. Oh no. No okra for me.
But then last year, I went to a benefit thrown by Chef Chris Hill (a local chef here in Norfolk), and he served fried okra. And you know what? No slime. And okra is good!
This week, we got a lovely little paper bag with okra in it. Amanda suggested we make gumbo, but in the end, we needed something a little simpler to get on the table.
I did research yesterday, reading article after article about people like me who can’t abide slimy okra. These people, along with several of the lovely people who follow me on Facebook, all recommended deep frying the okra. It cuts down on slime because of the high temperature of the oil. Also, you know, it’s deep frying. It makes anything taste good.
This presented me with two problems: one, we were already frying tomatoes. Two fried things in one meal seemed too indulgent. Two: while I like frying foods, I hate feeling like the only thing that can be done is to fry them (the way I feel about green tomatoes).
I searched. I plotted. I chose. And I noticed a trend in the mission to control slime and still produce tasty okra, a trend that I’ve put into a handy foodie-style acronym: SHAD.
(I love when it just comes together like that. I’m making acronyms, folks. This ish is legit!)
SHAD stands for spice, heat, acid, and dry.
SPICE: Okra likes spice. One NPR article I read about a woman who sought an alternative to deep fried okra tried roasting them with just olive oil and salt and pepper. It was bland, lacking. She went for a spicier blend more akin to Indian cuisine. I went for similar flavors. If you have a spice blend that you like, you could use that. Or you can make your own so that you control which flavors stand out, and which flavors play supporting roles.
HEAT: Cook okra at high heat. The high heat keeps slime to a minimum because it dries out the okra faster. It also makes for crispy okra, which is almost like fried, which is delicious.
ACID: I’ve had enough bouts with acid reflux in my 27 years to tell you one thing for sure: acid will cut through absolutely anything, including the lining of your stomach. And it hurts, people. It hurts. But luckily for us, the same principle can be applied to okra and its pesky slime. Cooking okra drizzled with acidic liquid (like lemon juice) or cooking it with acidic foods (like tomatoes and onions, two foods that were on my “Don’t eat this or your stomach will feel like it’s on fire” list), allows okra to mingle with the acid, cutting out the slime factor.
DRY: Truly slimy okra has likely been cooked by steam or simmering in water. Water likes water. It has to do with surface tension. And more than that, slime likes water. Water brings out the slime, encourages its existence. Water is the bad kid down the block who gets your honor roll kid (let’s call him Okra) into trouble. Keep Water away. Don’t let Water spend the night. Don’t let Okra spend the night at Water’s house (because I can tell you right now, Water’s mother is not home and they’re sneaking out to go to a rave). When you wash your okra, don’t just let it drip dry, and don’t start cutting immediately. Dry each stalk well, and then let them have some time in the open air to get completely dry.
In the end, I had only one slime encounter, one trail of snot-like slime across my knife. When that happens, wipe off your knife and then keep going. I also tried cutting the okra at a diagonal; that seemed to work, but I’m not sure if I can say it’s a hard fast rule.
Here’s my recipe for a mild spice blend and some crispy roasted okra.
Crispy Roasted Okra
All of the spice measurements can be adjusted to your liking. Taste as you go. And feel free to mix it up – perhaps you want cinnamon, or chili powder. The sky’s the limit, and you’re the boss.
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground corriander
1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 red onion, sliced thin (about 1/4″ inch slices)
Okra, as many as you like, the tops removed, and sliced into discs
Olive oil, about a tablespoon
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, mix the spices. One cool trick you can do is to toast the paprika and cumin in a hot skillet over medium heat until they are aromatic. It brings out the flavor and makes your kitchen smell warm and amazing. Mix the spices and give the mixture a taste. If it lacks in any way, doctor it up until you are pleased.
2. In a cast-iron skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to brown a little.
3. In a bowl, toss okra with the spice mixture and a little bit of olive oil. If you want added crunch, add a dash of panko bread crumbs.
4. Once okra is coated with spice mixture, add it to cast-iron skillet, turn heat up to medium-high, and saute for a couple minutes, allowing the okra to seal in the flavor of the oil.
5. After a couple minutes, transfer skillet to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until okra is crispy and onion has fully caramelized. (Start checking it after about ten minutes.)
A couple notes here: I used cast-iron because the skillet adds seasoning, which is nice. It’s also oven-safe, but allows for a quick saute on the stove top to seal in flavor and slime.
Also, my mission was to avoid slimy okra that looked like alien mucous. What I got in the final product was a mixture that looks a bit like fried grasshoppers. What are you going to do? Food is weird. But delicious. This okra was dry (no slime!), flavorful, a little smoky, a little spicy, and delightfully crispy.