An Okra Walked Into A Bar…

This week was going to be the week I finally gave out the recipe for the world’s greatest sweet potato pie.  The life-changing pie that I had at my friend Maxie’s church potluck.

Honest, this pie made me, who’s never been a fan of sweet potato pies literally steal a piece to take home for later, then ration each bite so it took me three days to eat.

But I changed my mind (the pie’s coming next week—I promise).

Even though I may come off like I have this exciting, glittering social life, unless it’s the grocery store or library, I honestly don’t get out much.  The last time I was at the movies, Greta Garbo was the next big thing.

They all had 1990s skinny eyebrows in the 1930s…

Well, Friday night, I went with a friend, to a bar.

It was a wild, frenzied night of abandon.  We each had one alcoholic beverage and shared two appetizers (I know, I need to calm down from my hard-partying, rock star ways.).

I had something delicious with blueberry and rum to drink.  One plate was poutine, a French-Canadian delicacy comprised of French fries covered with cheese curds and brown gravy—it truly is food of the gods, and this place makes the best.

Hummina hummina.

But the second item is the reason you won’t be getting that sweet potato pie recipe this week.

It was okra.  I thought that cornmeal coated, fried okra was this poor, misunderstood, and maligned vegetable’s highest calling.  But I was wrong.  It’s the okra we had Friday night.

Okra is such an ancient vegetable that no one actually knows where it first grew; either Africa or Asia.  But it’s no mystery that Africans brought it to America where it’s been growing for so long in the South that Thomas Jefferson wrote about it.

Growing okra is not for the faint of heart.  It must be tended by hand, in the heat of the summer.  There are spines on it which cause some people to swell and itch.  The roots are shallow, so you must take care weeding and harvesting as not to damage it.  Okra grows up to six feet so there is much stooping and reaching.  And if you wait too long to gather it, it becomes too tough and woody to eat.

You know, I love okra, but I don’t think even I love it this much.

And the eating of it brings another stumbling block.  There’s no pretending or camouflaging it, okra has an unapologetic green, earthy, vegetal flavor.  And then, of course, there’s that texture.  In scientific parlance, it’s called mucilage.  Most of us know it as slime.  That’s why the favored preparation is breading and frying.  It all but eliminates the s-word. 

Is that not glorious?

It’s almost as if okra’s daring us to love it.

But if you don’t love this okra dish, there’s no hope for you.

Cast Iron Skillet Okra

1pound okra, cleaned and cut in half, lengthwise

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Kosher salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 180 and place a shallow oven-proof dish inside.

Put ½ tablespoon of oil into cast iron skillet and heat to medium-high.  Lay half the okra, cut-side down into skillet in single layer and cook for 4 minutes.  When it’s very browned, flip over and cook 2 minutes more, until tender.  Then sprinkle with half the salt and toss lightly to make sure each okra’s salted.  Place in dish in oven to wait and cook the second half.

Serves 2-4.

So, here’s the thing.  This stuff is so good, so easy, that if you don’t try it, you’ve got only yourself to blame.  But I won’t be mad, I’ll just be disappointed.  Disappointed, over here in the corner, eating this wondrous okra.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

May we suggest poutine?

Before I write another word, for the sake of your circulatory system and my conscience, I need to be completely honest with you, Gentle Reader.

Poutine (pronounced poo-teen), is to health food what Rolls Royces are to economy cars.  Classic Canadian poutine is French fries, drenched in gravy, and covered with cheese curds.

I love poutine, but because of its sinister health connotations, I indulge infrequently.  I had it twice in Vermont at a restaurant called The Skinny Pancake; a crepe joint.  It was love at first bite, but honestly, I was already half in love just from the description of the dish.But depressingly, even poutine can be ruined.  One morning I had breakfast at the Pancake.

…and their glorious poutine

But depressingly, even poutine can be ruined.  One morning I had breakfast at the Pancake.

Because it was the AM, they offered a breakfast version.  It was covered in mild sausage gravy and topped with poached eggs.  The gravy was like sage-flavored wallpaper paste, and the eggs were so overcooked they might have been hard-boiled.

I was so disappointed I almost cried.I succumbed to poutine at lunch yesterday.  And it was really good.  But again, so very calorific and rich that The Kid and I shared an order, and last night for dinner I was fine with just some fruit.

The moral is, they can be transcendent—or dismal.  But, despite my experience with the ghastly jacked-up poutine, I am constitutionally unable to not tinker.

So The Kid and I collaborated and invented a couple of new twists.  But first, a quick tutorial on the technique for making an easy, quick gravy—‘cause it ain’t poutine if there ain’t gravy.

There are only four steps:Fry-In a large heavy pot, sauté the base.  Get some type of fat hot.  It can be butter, oil, or render some bacon.  Then toss in some kind of base; onions, mushrooms, or meat (like that delicious, delicious bacon).

Roux- Remove the meat or veg once it’s caramelized.  Then sprinkle in flour and whisk and cooked for a few minutes until it starts to get a little color.  Rule of thumb is ¼ cup light-colored roux will thicken 2 cups of liquid.Deglaze- Add cold liquid to the hot pot.  This will immediately lower the temp and allow you to scrape up brown bits.  If using alcohol, allow it to almost cook out, then pour in enough stock to make an unctuous sauce.  Add back veg, but hold bacon for garnish.

Thicken:  Whisk constantly until it comes to a boil.  Aside from tasting and re-seasoning if needed, this is the final step.  Once it comes to a boil, it’s done.  If it’s too thick, add more liquid.  If it’s too thin, cook at simmer until it tightens up a bit.

This procedure can be used to make almost every type of gravy.

The first twist on poutine is really simple.Instead of fries, use tater tots.  Cover with lashings of mushroom/onion gravy in which you deglazed with sherry, then added beef stock. Sprinkle on a big handful of coarsely grated hoop cheese on top.How about some sweet potato poutine?  Make sweet potato fries, either homemade or store-bought.  This time use goat cheese, and red-eye gravy.  For the gravy, cook bacon until it’s brown and crispy.  Remove bacon from pan and stir in flour.  Then add a couple cups of coffee and whisk until thick.  Top with crumbled, crispy bacon.

I hope you try some version of poutine.  But think about it as a day at the fair.  There’s a good reason it only rolls around once a year.Thanks for your time.