Spicy Crispy Okra (for Okra Haters)

Creative Commons Image via Wikipedia

It’s pretty amazing how my palate has changed over the past two years of following a Nutritarian diet.  Not only have I learned new preparation techniques, I have learned to prepare foods I have never eaten before.  It has been an enjoyable and enlightening process of discovery.

I also love to cook for others. I want the food to be so delicious that people aren’t thinking to themselves, “This is weird,” or “What’s in it?” both of which are just code for “Is there some kind of meat in this somewhere?” or “Am I going to be disappointed?”  I don’t beat people over the head with my food philosophy or lifestyle. I’d rather wow them with delicious food and make them curious enough to ask about it.

One food I never thought I would eat is okra. Tough, slimy, totally gross, NO NO NO I am totally not going there. No gumbo for me. Fried okra was still, well, okra, and the slime was always lurking. But recently, I accidentally ate okra at a restaurant and could not believe how delicious it was! I’ll share my recipe below. Sorry, there is no photo — we ate it all too fast to think about documentation!

The encouragement I would offer to anyone is to keep trying foods that are new to you, and be willing to experiment with different ways of preparing those foods.  Previously, I had tried okra boiled (yuck), fried (yuck), stewed (double yuck), and sneaked into soups and stews (yuck, pick that stuff out).  Modeled on the restaurant version, I created a dish that requires no added oil, sugar, salt, or animal products.  This is a new favorite, like a “we’re having this once a week” favorite. All this from a (previously) confirmed okra-hater!

I don’t really do recipes, as such, but if you are a little bit adventurous, you can try this process.

INGREDIENTS:
1 bag of frozen sliced okra,(12-16 oz.) thawed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 Tablespoon garam masala
2 Tablespoons chickpea flour

Now, don’t worry. You can combine any spices you like. You could use a tablespoon of chili powder, or more, to taste. Garam masala is my favorite Indian spice blend, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t use curry powder or some other blend. Adjust the spices to your taste. Go easy on the spices if you are not sure: you can always add more. I like chickpea flour because I don’t do well with wheat.  I haven’t experimented with other non-wheat flours, but I think corn meal would also work well.

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Thaw the okra in a colander or strainer. When it is thawed, wrap the okra in a dishtowel and get it as dry as you can. It will still feel kind of slimy, but it shouldn’t be drippy. As dry as possible (but don’t make yourself crazy).

Put the okra into a large bowl.  Add the spices and combine well. Another way to do this is to put the okra and spices into a 1 gallon zipper bag, and shake/massage until the okra pieces are pretty evenly coated with the spice mixture. When it looks like the pieces are evenly spices, add the chickpea flour and combine again. Add a little more of the flour if needed, just so that the pieces are no longer sticking together.

Transfer the coated okra to a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until crispy, keep an eye on it. It will take 45-60 minutes, depending on how hot your oven is and how dry the okra is. Turn the okra on the sheet to promote equal cooking, and to feel how crispy they are getting. If you don’t like okra, don’t taste it until it is crispy, because otherwise you will still taste the qualities of okra that we don’t like.

If you use fresh okra, the cooking time will be much shorter, because you are starting out with a drier product. Keep an eye and a nose on it — your home will start to smell fantastic, and your mouth will be watering.

The two vital elements of this process are : 1) make the okra as dry as possible before you add the spices, and 2) cook it until it is crispy. When you turn them, you will hear the sound of “hard things” on the baking sheet. See, cooking takes ALL of your senses! My recipe had to bake for an hour, so next time I make this, I will spend more time drying the okra at the beginning.

I never would have believed that the words “Delicious” and “Okra” could appear in the same sentence – especially in a sentence that I wrote. Change is always possible. It’s an okra miracle!

*How have your changing tastes surprised you?

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