Summer Star (Okra) Stew
Serve this over any grain you like. I prefer wild rice because it is filling for a meal, but many would consider nothing less than Carolina rice.
Make this a filling Meatless Monday Meal by adding a salad. It's great served with a hearty, crusty bread or good old Southern cornbread. Serve this for dinner one night, and the left overs make a simple side dish later in the week (okra keeps for at least 5 days in the refrigerator, and I think it only gets better over time).
What is Okra?
Valued for its edible green seed pods, Okra, traditionally used in gumbos, is a flowering plant in the mallow family. Originally cultivated from Ethiopia, this seed pod has found its way into African, South American and Southern recipes. You might be surprised to learn it is in the same plant family as cotton, which is why it grows so well in the South. It is also related to ornamental hollyhocks and hibiscus.
It seems everyone has an opinion about okra, and it is usually love it or hate it! I am betting that your family will love it after trying it served this way.
Choosing Okra: look for firm but not hardened or shriveled green pods with few blemishes. Be sure the stem is not softened.
Summer Star Stew
Time: 40 minutes Serves: 6+
8 cups fresh okra (you can substitute sliced frozen okra in the winter)
2 cans of whole plum tomatoes (plus juices)
6 to 8 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 large onion, chopped (or sliced, if you prefer)
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
8 basil leaves, torn (optional, but very recommended)
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
Parmesan cheese, fresh grated, for topping (optional)
1. Rinse the okra well in a colander to remove sand or grit. Discard any shriveled, blemished or brown okra. Trim ends and cut into "round," half inch pieces. (Be sure to point out the pentagonal shape at dinner, but note in the picture above one of the pieces is oddly hexagonal!)
2. Into a large stockpot, add the okra, tomatoes and basil. With your hands (careful, it splatters) or kitchen shears (recommended), cut the tomatoes into medium sized chunks.
3. Begin to prepare the chosen grain (traditionally rice in the South) according to package instructions.
4. In a skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the onions in the olive oil until soft, 5 or 6 minutes. Add garlic, pepper, Italian seasoning, and sauté 2 minutes more. Add to the stockpot.
5. Bring to a gentle simmer, partially cover, and reduce heat. Cook until tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.
To test for doneness, sample one of the larger pieces. It should be very tender, not fibrous or woody. If it is not tender, cook for another 5 to 10 minutes and re-test.
6. Season with salt once off heat. Add more Italian seasoning or pepper, if you like. Top with grated cheese, if using.
Kitchen Pediatrician™ Notes
1. To minimize excess moisture loss from the okra that can make okra "mucilaginous" (described by those that love okra as “silkiness”), allow the cut okra to come to room temperature before cooking and then blot off any moisture or slime with a paper towel.
Only add salt at the end of cooking.
2. Fresh okra is best kept in a brown paper bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. It can keep a week or longer depending on when it was picked.
3. If you want a thicker stew, add a heaping teaspoon of flour to the sauteing onions (be sure to "cook" for a few minutes to eliminate the flour taste) or choose not to add all the juice from the canned tomoatoes.
Optional Additions to try:
- Tabasco or other hot sauce
- Bay leaves (1 or 2)
- Celery or celery seed
- Bell pepper (red or green)
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► Let us know how you made YOUR okra and if you liked it in the comments below!