If people dislike okra, it's usually because of its mucilaginous (read: slimy) nature. I know okra as a bright addition to tart-sweet Vietnamese seafood soups and an earthy fried Indian side dish. In those Asian preparations, okra doesn’t reveal its gummy nature. Rather, you savor its ridged skin and little round seeds. You marvel at its lovely spoke structure and graceful appearance.
Okra is native to Africa but traveled to India at some very early
in time; no one is sure when that happened. In the 19th century, okra found itself in Southeast Asia and it moved on to China after that.
The pod has a mild flavor and plays well with other ingredients. It’s also a relatively expensive vegetable most of the year. For those reasons, it rarely has a starring role and is often cooked with other ingredients.
Summer is okra season as the warmer months coax their tropical nature and foster growth. The quality of the pods during summer is spectacular. Last week, at the India Cash and Carry market in San Jose, CA, a group of women huddled around a particularly fresh box of unblemished okra, picking their purchase one pod at a time. My husband noticed the group and jumped right in. He ended up with 1 1/2 pounds of gorgeous okra.
You may wince at the thought of co0king and eating that much okra. I could have fried them but found myself grilling them instead. The idea isn’t mine but rather, I spotted it in Luke Nguyen’s The Songs of Sapa cookbook. I’ve been grilling okra for several months now, whenever I get the chance. This past week was the biggest batch this year.
All you do is this:
- Get some fresh okra (Select ones that are no longer than your middle finger; they’re not called ‘ladies’ fingers’ for nothing!)
- Cut each pod in half lengthwise, stopping short of the stem end so that it still remains intact.
- Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to medium high.
- Grill the okra, basting occasionally with canola, peanut, or olive oil. Turn the okra too. When a pod splits open, it is done. This takes 3 to 5 minutes.
- Transfer to a plate, sprinkle with coarse salt. Eat with fingers or forks. Enjoy as is or with a dunk in Sriracha sauce (homemade or purchased). They are good hot or warm.
Grilled okra is an easy way to enjoy the little pods. No worries if you’re a slime hater. Okra’s sliminess cooks away during grilling.
What did we eat with the okra? Thai grilled baby back pork ribs, which were on sale for the upcoming holiday weekend. I dipped the ribs in some of the spicy umami ketchup for an instant barbecue sauce. I suppose you could pair those foods with potato salad and/or coleslaw for a nifty Asian-American July 4 celebration.