Summer Romance

Cultivating Okra brings endless joy to my summer mornings.

My daughter and I spotted okra seedlings at a farmer’s stand this past Spring.  “Mom! You love Okra!” she exclaimed “you should get some!” I had vowed not to plant any vegetables on my deck this summer. All past experiments inevitably led to heartbreak. With a dozen pots of varying sizes, I am limited in my choices and my plants are inevitably attacked and decimated by various urban pests: birds, squirrels and maybe a raccoon occasionally, not to mention the entire insect kingdom, from hungry caterpillars to stubborn aphids. Despite it all, and all summers past, I was seized by the desire to give it a go, at least, if nothing else, for educational purposes.

So… on the 26th day of May, I began with six seedlings. Three to one pot. Almost instantly, two of them died—probably the victims of the invasive, wandering mint that appeared out of nowhere. The third small seedling proved to be a fighter and lives on, to this day, although somewhat dwarfed by her heartless colonizer.

The other pot flaunted three healthy plants. I watched and I waited. I have been particularly busy lately and had no time for research, so I threw my expectations to the wind: “Jump right in and figure it out later”—my life’s new mantra and modus operandi. The first appearance of a couple of buds sent me shrieking with excitement.

It was June 8th. I thought I was seeing baby okra at first, but it turned out they were buds not pods. By June 13th the first plant gave me its first flower. I watched and I observed… Okra flowers are shy and ephemeral. They appear at the juncture of stem and leaf. Shaded by the leaves, the flower dazzles for one day, and one day only. I swooned over that first sighting: five creamy delicate, yellow petals forming a bell-like shape with a dark crimson heart and a yellow pistil with a crimson crown. By dusk it swirled onto itself, shutting out the world to gestate and give birth to the pod growing inside her.

My Okra plants are large and thirsty. By July 12th I had harvested a dozen pods. We are now the beginning of August and I have dozen more and at least fifty photographs. I sautéed my first dozen and froze them, the others, still being collected in a ziplock bag in the fridge, will have to be processed soon.

 

Carefully turning a paring knife along the upper ridge to remove the stem without breaking the skin.

August 3rd: the runt bore her first fruit. The plant is about a foot tall compared to the others that have reached 5 feet at least and looking rather spindly. The pot is much too small.

Unfortunately, I see the end in sight. I suspect we will be saying our goodbyes soon. The lower leaves, are turning yellow and falling off. I feel sad. I have kept a close eye on them daily. No other plant on my deck has given me as much pleasure, not even the thriving Basil. Like children I nursed them. Like pets I catered to their needs. I suspected it would be a fleeting, short lived affair, but I’m glad I enjoyed the ride while it lasted.

Okra, is not everyone’s cup of tea. But it boasts some amazing health benefits. It is an annual flowering plant in the mallow family—same as Mulukhia, the hollyhock, the rose of Sharon and the hibiscus. It is also called Gumbo or ladies’ fingers. It is high in fiber, low in calories and contains B and C vitamins, calcium, magnesium, potassium and folic acid. It have finally looked up its origin (Africa) and its history and discovered that leaves and flowers are edible too.

Roasted Egyptian Okra (top) and my harvest! sauteed in a pan (bottom)

I cook okra year-round using the frozen Egyptian kind found at Middle-Eastern grocers. The pods are tiny and the stems have carefully been removed. The fresh okra at the market is usually huge and seedy. I will cherish my own harvest and save it for a special occasion giving it the pomp and fanfare it deserves. The recipe that follows is a favorite family dish that can be eaten cold with bread or warm with rice.

My Okra Recipe

1lb. Okra
1 Large Tomato peeled* and chopped
1 Large Onion peeled and chopped
4 cloves of Garlic
Cilantro/Garlic mix**
Juice of a lemon or
Pomegranate Molasses

Cilantro/Garlic mix**
6 cloves garlic crushed
1 bunch Cilantro Chopped
1 tsp coriander powder***
1 tsp salt

Defrost okra, spread over dish towels to dry. Toss in a little olive oil and spread in baking sheet. Place in 375 F oven and roast until slightly golden. 15 minutes approximately.
(You can skip this method entirely and just add the okra to the onions when the latter have turned transparent and golden).
Saute onions in a little vegetable oil. After the onions have turned golden, add the okra tomatoes the four cloves of garlic and the lemon juice. Add a little water to barely cover, turn down heat to low for 10 minutes. Add garlic and cilantro mix, simmer for half an hour longer or until okra is tender. Taste and adjust salt and lemon. I love to substitute lemon juice with pomegranate molasses (I often use a little of both). Lemon is brighter, but pomegranate is deeper in flavor.

Ready, set, go: All ingredients together, add a little water to barely cover and let simmer on a very low flame.
Okra “Caviar” the finished dish, served cold. It’s better the next day. After cooking, let cool, cover in a dish and let sit in your refrigerator for a day or two. Perfect make ahead side dish or appetizer. It’s Vegan and delicious for any palate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*to peel tomatoes soak in boiling water for a few minutes

**To make the Cilantro mix, wash, dry and chop cilantro, crush garlic. In a little olive oil in a small pan, place over medium flame add garlic salt and coriander first, stir until garlic begins to turn golden, then add the chopped cilantro and fry up a little longer. set aside. You can make this ahead of time in batches and freeze. Using when and wherever needed.

*** Coriander is the seed of the Cilantro plant. It comes whole or in powder form.

p.s. Call me fickle and unfaithful, but I’d been so absorbed with my newly found affair, that I had completely forgotten my Mulukhia! Half way through the summer, when I went to find farmer Heinz I sadly discovered he was no longer coming to DC!

Author: slicesofquinceblog

Hello, Thank you for visiting my blog. My name is Fadia. Fadia, like “Nadia” but with an F as in “Food”. Food is a passion of mine, bordering on an obsession. It has kept me sane (and well-nourished) during a long and crazy career in the food business. I live in Washington, D.C. with my husband, where our two daughters were born and raised and where, they learned to spend hours in the kitchen watching, experimenting, learning, cooking and baking. Food has been the thread and fabric of my relationships with people who, like me, have researched its nourishing and healing powers and have shared their knowledge in underserved or “over-served” communities, or who simply are thrilled with the joys of cooking. I grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, in a household and a family of cooks, or should I say, in a country of fiercely competitive cooks (I will probably write about Middle-eastern cooking as adapted to the U.S. kitchen). I moved to New York in my twenties and there I began my life-long exploration of world cuisines while still perfecting the art of cooking elaborate and healthy dishes in a jiffy and on a budget. We never succumbed to frozen dinners— O.K. maybe, a frozen pizza on the occasional Friday night. This is America after all! I cook just about everyday. I have had many teachers and many mentors, and I have taught and mentored many. I am still discovering and learning. It’s a never-ending joyful process. I also cook for distraction and have cooked professionally as instructor and demonstrator. I am setting up a burgeoning business as a freelance recipe tester and developer and a food writer and photographer. (Bring on the requests! I am available for hire). In this blog I plan to share photos, recipes and stories. Most of all I would like to honor all my kitchen heroes who have and continue to inspire me. I would like it to develop into a forum of exchange between friends, a resource for tips, information and ideas. Finally, I must mention that I do not do this without a twang of shame. I‘ll mention it and move on, hoping that perhaps later, I could dedicate more time and writing to it. The dark side of food, is the lack of it, bringing on malnutrition, disease and hunger to billions around the globe and right here in our own backyards. Our culture has also contributed to devastating food disorders that are very hard to ignore. As much as food brings us joy, the lack of it brings devastation. I never forget that. I would like to think that while we relish our beautiful dishes and our gorgeous photos of elegantly plated food, we can take a moment to read a HUNGER blog or two and help the people and organizations that dedicate their lives to this universal cause. Each of us food fanatics can. Please start now, start thoughtfully . I know I shall. With gratitude. F.

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