A Little Southern Comfort
I have always enjoyed a nice helping of okra, usually battered and fried. But I hadn’t run across this southern sweetheart’s plant prior to my work on the farm. Talk about your “straight from the farm” pleasures – this particular plant packs a double wallop. First, I was instantly mesmerized by its blossoms. Creamy ivory petals hug a deeply purple heart and fuzzy-chick-yellow pistil…the sheer sensuality of its beauty instantly reminded me of a Georgia O’Keefe painting.
After I stopped starring at the flower and got to harvesting the okra – the plant’s undeveloped seed pods – I was again engrossed with how tender and delicate the okra was when it was harvested. The stuff I had gotten in the past from the supermarket just didn’t hold a candle next to the soft pods in my hands during this mid-morning Saturday harvest. I couldn’t slather these tender babies in batter and subject them to scalding oil.
I went to my sagging shelf of cookbooks and pulled down a few of my most trusted. I had always thought of okra as a southern dish, which no doubt it is. But it turns out it must be popular in the Mediterranean too, or so one would assume since I found the recipe I was looking for in World Cook’s Collection: Mediterranean Kitchen. Despite to book’s title, I would still classify this recipe as one with more southern than mediterranean flare.
Regardless of the recipe origins, there’s no denying this dish is pure comfort food. The flavors are warm but not hot. The texture is soft but not slimy the way some okra dishes can get. And the overall end result is a full tummy that hasn’t missed having a “main dish” when this okra is served over rice. Really, it makes quite a nice lunch.
OKRA WITH CORIANDER AND TOMATOES
Adapted from World Cook’s Collection: Mediterranean Kitchen
1 lb. fresh ripe tomatoes
1 lb. fresh okra
3 T. olive oil
2 small onions, thinly sliced
2 t. crushed coriander seeds OR 1 t. ground coriander
3 garlic gloves, minced
1/2 t. sugar
1 lemon, zested and juiced
salt and ground black pepper
Bring a pot of water up to a boil. Plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water for 30 seconds, then transfer to cold water. Peel off the skins and roughly chop.
Trim off okra stalks and keep whole otherwise. Heat oil in a skillet and sauté onions and coriander until the onions soften and color slightly, about 3-4 minutes.
Add the okra and garlic and continue to sauté for another minute. Turn heat down and add tomatoes and sugar. Stir well and simmer gently for about 20 minutes, until the okra is tender. Stir once half-way through. When okra is tender, add lemon zest and juice along with salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and serve immediately over rice or by itself.
(serves 4 as side dish)