I’ve been in Georgia long enough now that folks give me a sideways glance when I still claim I’m from Chicago. My transformation to cold-fearing Southerner is all but complete and yet one regional food mystery remains for me: okra. It seems to be the kudzu of vegetables here in these parts: everyone I know with a bountiful summer garden tries to pawn it off – often in pickled form – in mass quantities through July and August. As someone with texture issues when it comes to food, the viscous quality that okra has is nothing less than unsettling to me. Sure, I can pop one or two pickled ones in a bloody mary but, really, what doesn’t go well in a bloody mary? Outside of pickling and deep-fried, I’ve yet to see much in the way of preparations that does this vegetable justice without having to completely mask what it is.
Leave it to Atlanta chef-turned-Bravo TV food celebrity Kevin Gillespie – whose cooking style and local restaurant Woodfire Grill is best known for amazing preparations of all things pig – to turn out a vegetarian recipe that had me swooning over okra. I found this recipe randomly while surfing on Food & Wine’s website. The charred, crusty texture leapt out at me and the allure of all the Indian influenced spices I so love pulled me in. At the farmers market I go to, okra is still bountiful and beautiful. I grabbed a handful – as well as pulled out all the spices in my cabinet – and whipped this together in no time. There was none of the slimy texture that gives okra a bad rap and the warm, toasty spices are gorgeous. Since this is a great (and fast) entertaining snack to fix for parties, I thought a dip might be in order to contrast the spicy okra. A quick, cooling raita – which you can whisk together in 2 minutes – was a great contrast with the smokey slivers. I’ve included my no-nonsense recipe after Kevin’s okra recipe.
– In a small bowl, blend the paprika with the cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric, cinnamon and fenugreek.
– In each of 2 large nonstick skillets, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the okra, cut side down, and cook over high heat for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook until browned on the bottom, 4 minutes longer. Turn the okra and cook over low heat until tender, 2 minutes. Season with salt and sprinkle with the spice mixture. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Drizzle the lemon juice over the okra and serve.
Quick and Easy Raita Dip – makes 2 cups
– Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix together well. Make sure you refrigerate this dip until right when you’re going to serve it. Otherwise, it’s going to be melty and watery.