I remember years ago when I tried my first okra. I was in Austin, Texas enjoying an extra long weekend frolicking on the lake; kicking it up along 6th Street and two-stepping to the musical blend that is unique to the city. At dinner, I was encouraged to try my first chicken fried steak that was blanketed in the heaviest white sauce west of the Mississippi. Then I brought to my lips a pickled okra – and yuck! It was slimy and chewy – it was nothing my mouth enjoyed feeling. Well, strike that vegetable off the list.
If you ever end up in southern Louisiana okra is destined to pass your lips. And it did. Gumbo changed my mind about that first experience, and gave me a better understanding on how to employ this African offering to the world.
Yes, there will always be a mucilaginous quality okra – knowing how to use it to your advantage is key. Its meeting with the tomato must have been one of the culinary epiphanies for the two play together so well. The sweet, acidic quality of tomato cuts the unfortunate goo that shrouds okra with such a negative connotation. The Indians of the sub-continent make a fabulous spicy curry stew; of course the iconic Cajun concoction known as Gumbo (which actually means okra) is luscious, and the simple fried application sits right in the lap of southern hospitality.
Buy small okra about 1 to 2 inches (the smaller ones are less slimy) in length that are a unblemished. Store in the refrigerator in a paper bag or a towel-lined bowl for three to four days.
Seafood Gumbo - yields 6 to 8 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
1 small onion - diced
3 garlic cloves – crushed to a paste
1 russet potato - peeled and diced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon celery powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 pound okra - washed, trimmed and sliced in thirds
3 cups crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 pound monkfish or cod fillets- cut into 1" cubes
1/2 pound shrimp – peeled and de-veined
6 scallions - diced
1/2 lemon - juiced
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a heavy line 3 quart pot and add the oil and flour. Cook the mixture over a medium low flame until it is a dark golden brown stirring occasionally. Add the onions cooking until translucent. Add the garlic, potatoes, curry powder, celery powder and chili powder. Cook the mixture for a few minutes, keeping it moving in order not to burn the spices. Add the balsamic vinegar stirring to incorporate. Mix in the okra and crushed tomato, 1.2 cup of water and bringing the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cover; cook the gumbo for 30 minutes. Add the fish and shrimp, and bring the heat back up. Simmer another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the scallions and lemon juice just prior to serving.