Thursday, November 16, 2006

Okra, I Want to Like Thee

Okra, papaya and Twizzlers. These seemingly dissimilar food items have one unfortunate commonality – they are the three foods in the world that I dislike.* My aversion is begrudging and reluctant, however, and I periodically retest my taste buds just to make sure they haven’t changed their minds. Today’s test subject? Okra.

Okra is an African vegetable, through and through. It originated in present-day Ethiopia, and the word “okra” comes from Ibo, a language spoken in Nigeria. African dishes from the Cape to Cairo employ this long, tapered, hexagonal vegetable, including the two I tried tonight – okra with coconut (a recipe from the Indian community in South Africa) and bamia, an Egyptian okra stew.

I’ve tried okra fried. I’ve tried it in gumbo. I’ve tried it sautéed with tomatoes. And I have never once enjoyed it. But, to my amazement, I actually found these two dishes to be excellent – full of flavor and cooked so that the okra retains a bit of crunch, a technique which effectively distracts your attention from the vegetable’s slimier tendencies. Both okra recipes make excellent side dishes, and can be served over rice.

Okra with Coconut
Adapted from Mixed Masala: Indian Cookery South African Style
Serves 3-4 as a side dish

½ teaspoon coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
250 grams/½ pound fresh okra, sliced into fine rings
1 tablespoon desi
ccated coconut
2 green chilies, cut lengthwise and then into halves
1 small onion, finely sliced
½ teaspoon salt

Put the coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a small fry pan over medium heat, and roast lightly. Grind the seeds into powder using a mortar and pestle, and set aside.

Pour the oil into a medium fry pan and set over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds begin popping, add the okra. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Turn the heat down to low and add the freshly ground coriander and cumin seeds, desiccated coconut, chilies, onion and salt. Stir. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until the okra is tender. Lift the cover occasionally to give the mixture a stir. If the okra is sticking to the bottom of the fry pan, simply add a bit of water.

Egyptian Okra Stew (Bamia)
Adapted from Recipe Zaar
Serves 4-6 as a side dish

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, cut in half and finely sliced
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 400-gram/14-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
Juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro (a.k.a. fresh coriander), chopped
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
700 grams/1½ pounds fresh okra, cut into ½-inch rounds

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until the onion is translucent, about five minutes. Add the tomatoes (with their juice), lemon, parsley, cilantro, ground cardamom, salt and pepper, and stir, making sure to break up the tomatoes with the back of your spoon. Simmer for five minutes, stirring frequently. Add the okra and stir. Cook for another ten minutes, or until the okra is tender but not mushy. Serve hot.

One down, two to go. Now does anyone have a particularly enticing papaya preparation to share?

* I must offer the caveat that I don’t eat meat (pork, chicken, or beef). I don’t consider these to be items I don’t like, just foods I choose not to eat!


Anita said...

Carolyn, you don't like papaya?! Slice and drizzle with honey; or if you are spice-inclined, cube and sprinkle with spicy Indian Chaat Masaala with some other cubed fruits (bananas, oranges, apples...), like a spicy fruit salad. Yum.

Good work on the okra. There are slime-free ways!

Sarah Shamel said...

Ca, I didn't realize just how similar our tastes are. I would also claim okra, papaya, and Twizzlers among the few foods I dislike! I'll have to try your okra dishes. I also like to challenge my food dislikes. For istance, I taught myself to like (and eventually LOVE) brussel sprouts by trying them prepared different ways. (With a lemon-soy glaze is the way to go!) I think I'll won't worry about the Twizzler dislike though - junk!

Carolyn said...

Anita -

Thanks so much for the papaya pointers! I think maybe the problem has been that I haven't had GOOD papaya because, I am pleased to report, I did (cautiously) eat some last week in Zanzibar and found I liked it with a squeeze of lime. I'll try the honey and Chaat Masala next time, too!

Sarah -

Well, you know the saying, great tastebuds think alike! :-) I'd love to try your brussel sprout recipes. I haven't cooked much with them in the past. And, I, too, have given up on liking Twizzlers!


andrea said...

we eat o lot of okra in brazil, and we use lime juice - or vinegar - a few drops, to "cut down" the slime

Justine said...

I wonder if papaya and okra are the two most disliked foods in the world? I'm usually an eat / enjoy anything kind of girl, but I have also frequently cited these two as the only things I really don't enjoy. I've never had Twizzlers - not even sure I know what they are, must be an American thing - but sounds as though I should steer clear of them!

Great blog Carolyn! :0)