Never mind the slimeBy Carole Howell
People either hate it or love it with seemingly no in-between. The late Robin Williams likened okra to that substance that comes out of your nose when you have a cold. As the kind Southerners that we are, we must forgive him because he was born in Chicago, bless his heart.
As a born Southerner, raised on the stuff, slime and all, I like it just fine. You see, I know how to fry it to a golden crisp, stew it with fresh garden tomatoes, and steam young, tender pods and eat them with butter and salt. You can bake it, grill it, add it to gumbo, or pickle it. I even like okra as a crispy addition to salads and cut right from the stalk, warm from the summer sun. (And a little acid, in the form of lemon or tomato juice, helps tame the slime.)
Okra is thought to be native to Ethiopia, carried to America by enslaved Africans. Fortunately for us, okra loves the sun of a southern summer just like sweet tea loves the shade. In fact, Irmo, South Carolina, holds an annual Okra Strut Festival every September, celebrating all there is to love about this incredible pod.
If you really love okra, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s high in nutrients and fiber, only 35 calories a cooked cup, and available year-round in the freezer section. While green okra remains the favorite, okra actually comes in 20 different varieties including red and purple. One of the most popular for home gardens is the Clemson Spineless variety.
On our farm, we grow our own, eat as much as we can, and freeze the rest. I either cut it plain to add to soups and gumbo, or pre-batter it for frying. My absolute favorite way to preserve okra, however, is to pickle it with garlic pods and red pepper flakes. If you don’t think you like okra, you haven’t had a crispy, spicy okra pickle, and you owe it to yourself to try at least one.
This summer, make it a goal to seek out some fresh okra from your local farmer’s market or from a generous friend. Try it a couple of different ways, then let me know what you think. I think if you’re a hater, you’ll become a fan, never mind the slime.