Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ooh la la, okra

I didn't grow up eating okra. My family ate what it grew, and okra took a backseat to corn, green beans, and more. That might surprise folks who think all Southerners say "I de-clay-uh!" or sweat indoors. Just as there are hundreds of accents within the South (I was the one protesting to dubious fellow college freshmen in Boston that no really, I promise I'm from North Carolina even without a Steel Magnolias accent), there are traditions as far-flung and varied as they come, and nowhere more so than in local foodways.

So there was no okra in my childhood, and no fried green tomatoes served at the local train depot, either. I've discovered these foods in my adulthood instead, and in cases like okra, in a more modern way than the deep fryer could offer. I probably wouldn't have seasoned Southern produce with Indian spices as a kid, for example, which is a low-down crying shame, now that I think about it.

Enter Food & Wine's September issue (I'm a month behind on all my magazines - mea culpa!), which was a clarion call to my okra-deficient but shrimp and barbecue-rich youth. The theme for the issue was "New South," offering modern spins on tried and true favorites. I couldn't have dreamed up a better celebration of food if I'd tried.

This skillet-roasted spiced okra is the brainchild of 'Top Chef' alum Kevin Gillespie, who refutes the stereotype of meat-loving Southerners and corrects the record: vegetables are the true star of Southern tables. I found my okra over the weekend at the local farmers market and jumped on it. The chances of me going back for more this weekend? As good as another reprehensible "Southern" accent hitting your big and small screens soon. Trust me, you've gotta make this dish.

Skillet-Roasted Spiced Okra

3/4 teaspoon hot paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of ground fenugreek (optional)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound small okra, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. In a small bowl, blend the paprika with the cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric, cinnamon and fenugreek.
2. 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.
3. Serve with Lentils in Herb-Arugula Yogurt (Or do what I did, which is ignore the recipe and simply blend a small plain yogurt with a handful of fresh arugula, a cup of cooked lentils, and a dash of salt)

Updated Note: I found the individual flipping method to be stressful because my okra were fairly small. You can achieve delicious results without being this precise, trust me!


  1. Um, I want this now. I heart Kevin super big time. And okra.

    We grew up eating tons of okra- lightly dusted in cornmeal fired in a cast iron skillet. My favorite birthday meal was salmon patties, mama's flat biscuits, and fried okra (and I act like I'm not country). Haha, in fact, I was sick on my b-day this year, canceled fancy restaurant plans, and had my mama make me that, along with fresh tomatoes.

    Okay, this comment is getting extremely long. When I get back from Charleston Sunday, I am going to make this okra. Thanks Maggie!

  2. I don't know that I've ever had okra. I grew up in California so most southern food was foreign to me until I moved to Florida. (Though, I still maintain Florida is only half-southern. It's weird here.) While I've sampled much of the delicious southern flavors I was missing out on for half my life, I've yet to hit a few - one being okra of any kind. And greens. Since these have the Maggie endorsement, I'll have to give them a try.

    Also - funugreek? I like to think I know a thing or two about food but I have never heard of such a thing. Sounds like something they grow at Hogwarts. Off I go to Google "fenugreek"!

  3. My grandmother from Oklahoma used to grow okra and fry it up for me every summer when I visited her as a kid. We lost her last summer. I wonder sometimes if I'll ever have anything quite like it again. She'd cook it in her specially seasoned cast iron frying pan, and I don't think there's any way for me to recapture the taste.

  4. It's good to hear how much you liked this recipe! I don't cook with okra often, but I should do this one, since all of the other recipes in that article sound so great.

  5. I love okra. love it. I did grow up with, but usually just the fried variety. Now that I'm a "grown up" (ish) I like it many other ways too. I'll have to try this recipe.

  6. Two words: OKRA FRIES. There's an Indian place here in town that makes them. I don't think I've ever eaten so fast or impolitely in public. Dee-lish!
    The tailgate market's keeping me in okra for now--can't seem to get enough of the stuff.

  7. Wait. What do you mean no accents? You have just ruined the entire South for me. I get an accent on a one hour layover. Next you'll say that the vapors are also not a thing of the region, and I will be soundly crushed.


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