Okra is a vegetable with an inferiority complex. Its delicious flavor hides under a certain goopiness, or mucilage released in cooking, and some people don’t like it.
On the other hand, you may want the beneficial mucilage. It soothes the entire digestive tract with a protective demulcent coating, much like its relative, the mallow (ideas for how to cook mallow leaves here). The liquid is appreciated as a natural thickener for soups and stews, as the Americans use it in gumbo. While okra is usually served hot, this surprising Lebanese recipe serves it cold as a part of mezze, those lovely little Middle-Eastern salads and nibbles set out on the table before the main dish arrives.
The best pods are no longer than 4 inches long. To avoid releasing mucilage in cooking okra, stir fry the pods over high heat, making sure to include a little of something acidic: tomatoes, lemon juice or vinegar, like in the recipe below.
Okra in Olive Oil
3 cups tender young okra pods
10 pearl onions
3 medium sized tomatoes
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (coriander leaves)
8 cloves garlic
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Crush garlic. Add cilantro and chop it finely, together with the garlic.
Trim the pods of their hard stem ends. Wash well, drain, and tumble in a clean towel to dry them.
Slice the tomatoes thickly.
Fry the okra in deep, hot olive oil until just tender. Remove the okra and fry onions in same oil till soft and golden. Pour off most of the oil and fry the cilantro mixture for 1 minute.
Cover the bottom of a large pan with a layer of sliced tomatoes. Cover the tomatoes with the okra. Scatter the onions over it. Pour the lemon juice over the vegetables, and spoon the cilantro mixture over all. Make a depression in the center of the okra and fill it with the onions. Spoon the cilantro over all. Season with salt and pepper.
Cover and bring the vegetables to a gentle boil over medium heat. Turn the heat down immediately and simmer, uncovered, until most of the liquid is reduced. Check the seasoning.
Spoon the cooked okra into a serving dish. Cover, chill, and serve cold.
More of Green Prophet’s delectable Middle-Eastern vegetarian recipes:
Photo of fresh okra by Saucy Salad via Flickr.
Miriam Kresh also writes a food blog.