With the flavor and texture falling somewhere between that of eggplant and asparagus, fresh okra is an item that I purchase any chance I get through the summer and fall seasons.
One of the most unusual textural experiences you will encounter, okra is known for the natural sticky juices that are encased within the green torpedo-shaped pods. In addition to the green okra, there is also a beautiful purple variety that can also be found locally.
Okra is best when harvested at its smaller, younger stage, yielding a much more tender texture that can be enjoyed in both raw and cooked preparations.
A member of the mallow family, sharing the likes of cotton, hibiscus and cocoa, the sticky juice this fruit exudes is the result of a combination of dynamic chemical substances such as acetylated acidic polysaccharide and galacturonic acid. When roasted in the oven, or sliced and simmering in a pot, you can see these sticky juices in action as they seep out of the okra’s seed pockets. When placed in liquid, okra will assist in thickening any soup or stew, most notably being a key ingredient in a traditional Southern gumbo.
In my home kitchen, okra is most regularly roasted in the oven in a single layer, after receiving a mild coating of olive oil and seasoned with garlic salt and pepper. After about 35 minutes in a 425-degree oven, it’s ready to enjoy as a simple side.
Okra is also excellent when pickled, enjoyed in curry dishes, and a wide array of soups and stews.
This week I prepared a simple fried okra dish that can be enjoyed as an appetizer or a side dish. It can be served with a roasted red pepper sauce or your favorite hummus.
FRIED PANKO OKRA
1½ pounds okra, stem tops trimmed off. (You can leave the okra whole or cut it into half-inch rounds.)
1 cup flour.
2-3 eggs, beaten.
2 cups panko breadcrumbs.
1 teaspoon dried oregano.
1 teaspoon garlic salt or seasoned salt.
1 teaspoon dried cumin.
1 teaspoon paprika (smoked if available).
Peanut oil, vegetable oil or sunflower oil.
In three separate bowls; place flour in one, eggs in another, and toss together the breadcrumbs, oregano, salt, cumin and paprika in the third. Coat each piece of okra with flour, then egg, then the panko mixture. Repeat for each okra and place on a plate.
In a wide pan, add enough oil to fully cover the bottom and turn to medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the okra in a single layer in the pan. You will likely have to do a couple of rounds.
Cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden and crispy. Once done, transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel, season the top with a little additional salt and serve hot with your favorite dipping sauce.
Yield: Serves 4.