A mother-daughter conversation on food and cooking (mostly)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Steamed Okra

You already know, Mom, how much I love okra. I eat it several times a week throughout the summer and fall; when Lawson's plants really start producing, we sometimes eat it every day. It has frankly glorious effects on one's digestion. I love the plants, which have delicate yellow hibiscus-like flowers and grow to 10 feet tall by the end of the season, so tall I have to bend them down to pick the okra at the top.

It wasn't always like this. Your encounter with a stringy, boogery bowl of boiled okra in your early 20s was passed on like a family ghost story: I moved to the South absolutely convinced that okra was a slimy horror, barely a vegetable -- just another Southern embarrassment. But I tried it, and then tried it again, and though it took some getting used to, it is now among my favorite foods.

I've only once bought okra from the store, and I was a little disappointed, but I think I am spoiled by the garden. Choose small pods, no more than 4 inches long and preferably half that length. Size is not good with okra; if you don't pick pods in time, they'll grow to 16 inches long and become hard as tree trunks, totally inedible. The pods must be absolutely fresh, with no woodiness or drying – tough pods can be used in gumbos or other stews, where they’ll have more time to soften.

Minimal handling keeps the pods from becoming gooey. Don’t cut the stems off. I don’t even wash whole okra before cooking them, as water also contributes to sliminess. I just brush them off a little.

Most people consider fried okra the most approachable preparation, and it's true that it's a good introduction to the flavor. Last night we broiled okra after tossing it with salt and olive oil. We intended to grill it, but the grill ran out of gas, and broiling worked perfectly. But the absolute best way to eat okra is steamed. I'm not usually a steamed vegetable fan -- steamed broccoli makes me particularly sad -- but steamed okra is different. Steaming brings out okra flavors that no other cooking method uncovers. It's complex and nutty and sweet and oystery and asparaguslike and perfectly tender.

Steamed Okra

Boil water in a pot with a fitted steamer. If some pods are significantly bigger than others, put the bigger pods in a few minutes earlier. Steam the pods for anywhere from 3 to 8 minutes, checking every few minutes. Remove the pot from the heat when the pods are bright dewy green and easily pierced with a fork. Remove immediately to a dry bowl – don’t let the water from the bottom of the pot touch the pods – and sprinkle liberally with salt. Eat with fingers.


Anonymous said...

I love steamed okra!!! When I make a big ol' pot of butter beans and field peas (cooked with ham hocks, of course), I always put some okra on top to them to steam at the end of their cooking time. Small ears of corn on top of that, and you have a meal to die for!!!

Eva said...

Beans and pork fat and okra and only one pot to wash? Yes please! I'll definitely try this as soon as our garden okra start coming in. Thanks, anon.

Meghan said...

Hi there- I bought a handful of fresh-picked small okra yesterday at a nearby farmers market in Bethesda, Maryland and that evening googled "steamed okra" as I watched the women's Olympic marathon on NBC. Your blog came up and I followed your directions, handling them sparingly and steaming them for 5 minutes. I sprinkled them with course salt and a dab of butter, and you are correct-- steamed okra is wonderful. Much better than fried! Many thanks for posting your recipe online. I'm now hooked. : )

Eva said...

Hi Meghan. I watched that race, too, actually -- it was pretty gripping. I'm happy you've discovered the magic that is steamed okra!

Anonymous said...

I have crimson okra growing out back and about to make breakfast. Steamed Okra and Eggs... Mmmm. My kind of meal.

Anonymous said...

OMG I'm looking for how long to steam okra and I see 'Eva' then a few paragraphs down I see 'Lawson' -- small world on the Internet :)

Dave R.

Hope all is well with u guys ;)

SarahB said...

ooh I'm inspired to try this - have been put off okra by sliminess in the past but this steaming version looks non slimy and they are SOOOO good for you! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

They're amazing with good olive oil. Mmmmmmmmmmm.