I have a love-hate relationship with okra. I hate it in gumbo. I painstakingly pick around it. I don’t like okra stewed with tomatoes. I dislike it cooked down in any liquid because the method makes it mushy and brings out its slimy tendencies.
But take it out of the stock pot, and I love any and all okra. I adore the short, fat ones; the odd ones curved into a lazy “C”; the long ones, straight as an arrow; the smooth ones; the beveled ones; the green ones; and the reddish-purple ones.
Like a lot of Southerners, I relish okra fried: thin star slices dusted in a whisper of gritty cornmeal, bathed in hot oil till golden and crisp and salted liberally while warm. I’ve discovered other ways I like it too; roasted okra is so simple and like frying, results in a crunchy texture. Another plus? You don’t have to stand over the hot stove to make it. I may hate boiled okra, but I HATE being hot. Here’s how I do it.
Easy Roasted Okra
Coat whole okras in olive oil. Lay them in single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet and salt generously. Place in a preheated 425-degree oven and cook for 20-25 minutes.
About half way through the cooking time, use tongs to turn each okra over for even roasting. They’re delicious just like this but get even better when served with tangy “comeback sauce” for dipping. (Southern Living's recipe for this Mississippi-born condiment is fabulous.)
Want extra oomph? Add some spice. I love Indian-influenced flavors with okra and recently roasted some dusted with Spicewalla’s Tandoori Masala. I’ll probably never make it any other way again.
Perfect Pickled Okra
A simple solution of vinegar, salt, sugar and spices elevates and preserves okra’s just-picked flavor. Alabama-based Wickles Pickles makes a wickedly spicy version, but you can make your own with minimal effort and just a bit of time. While pickling will heat up your kitchen like frying, you can do it just once, and then enjoy the rewards of your labor for months to come.
Step 1: Boil your canning jars with their lids and seals in a large pot of water. Carefully remove them and set aside on a dishtowel.
Step 2: Fill another large pot 2/3 of the way full with water and bring it to a simmer.
Step 3: Bring 4 cups of white vinegar, 4 cups of water, 1/2 cup of salt and 1/4 cup sugar to a boil and let cook for a few minutes.
Step 4: Jam as many fresh okra as you can into each sterilized jar along with one clove of garlic, some hot pepper slices and a few onion slices (optional). You can really add any spices you like.
Step 5: Pour the hot pickling liquid into the jars, stopping about a 1/2 inch from the top of the jar.
Step 6: Wipe the jar tops clean if you spilled any liquid, then place the lids on your jars and turn until just tight. If you've got a canning rack, place the jars in the rack and set them into the second pot of hot water. If you don't have a rack, use tongs to very carefully set them down into the water. Add more water if needed to cover the tops of the jars by about an inch.
Step 7: Bring the water with the jars in it to a boil, and let it heat the jars for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the jars sit in the water for another 10 minutes to cool down some. Carefully remove the jars and let them sit, undisturbed for at least 12 hours.
Step 8: Test the seals on your finished pickled okra by pressing down on the center of each jar top. If there is any give (if it moves up and down), you'll need to re-process the jars. First take off the lids and look for any nicks in the rubber seal. If needed, use a new jar. Then, put the unsealed jars back into boiling water for 10-15 minutes, and let them rest again before a re-test. If there's no give in the lid on the first test, you're done!
There’s no need to refrigerate (until you open them), and they’ll keep for about a year in your pantry until then.
But it’s doubtful they’ll last that long. Employ their vinegary punch to jazz up a cheese plate. Or make some “Southern Sushi,” a perfect no-cook snack for fall’s football parties and tailgates. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese on top of deli ham slices and place a piece of pickled okra on one edge of each slice. Roll them up and slice crosswise. Skewer with a toothpick, and you’ve got an easy appetizer that looks almost as good as it tastes.