One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

-Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, "Pavarotti, My Own Story"

Monday, August 15, 2011

Crispy Roasted Okra

The older I get, the more I realize that the old adage of "never say never" holds very true. The latest confirmation of this came, funnily enough, from a vegetable: Okra. As a child, I would categorically refuse to eat my mother's beloved okra stew. I mean, when you are six years old, any vegetable is the work of the devil, but okra is a special case. It's slimy. As in thick, viscous, stick-to-your-fingers-and-tongue bitter ooze. Heck, Wikipedia calls it "mucilaginous". Doesn't that sound appetizing?

Everything changed when I saw this recipe for crispy okra in a food magazine. The minute I read the word "roasted", a bell in my brain went "ding-ding!" and I rushed to the store. Thirty minutes later, I was sitting down to a delicious and healthy snack. Mellowed by the heat of the oven, the astringent okra becomes nutty and almost sweet. The pods get crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside, like a great french fry. And most incredible of all, the slime completely disappears! Who'd have thought that a vegetable I had sworn would never pass my lips could end up being so good? 

I should have known, of course. Roasting is, after all, a pretty magical way of cooking vegetables. Toss any vegetable with oil and roast at 400F for 25 minutes and you'll be amazed at what emerges from your oven. Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, beets, kale and sweet potatoes regularly get this treatment in my kitchen, and now, okra too. Just goes to show: Never say never.

Crispy Roasted Okra

Try to pick larger okra pods. Can be served warm or room temperature. You can add cumin, coriander, garam masala or hot sauce to jazz these up. Serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer.

1 lb (0.5 kg) okra
1-2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of half a lemon (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400F (200C) and line an oven tray with foil. 

2. Halve okra pods lengthwise. Toss the pods with olive oil and place them, cut-side down and in a single layer, on the oven tray.

3. Roast on the middle rack of the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the cut sides of the pods are browned. 

4. Season with salt and toss with some lemon juice. 

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