My sister loves the cuisine of the Greek Isles. (She loves all things Greek, actually, but I’ll focus here on her love of the food.) After spending two summers interning at a nursing home on Ikaria, Ali came home brimming with stories of the people she’d befriended, the hoardes of stray dogs roaming the street, of the best damn Tzatziki she’d ever eaten.
Aware of my budding interest in cooking, Ali brought back recipes from the island. Some were adaptations of restaurant dishes she’d tried and loved. Others were given to her by her host-mom-of-sorts. Yet others she found in Greek cookbooks, here and in Greece. One such recipe was for Okra and Tomatoes.
I’d never had okra before last week. Seeing so much of it at the farmers market, I caved and bought a small bag — $.70 worth, so maybe 2/3 of a pound. Not having a solid plan for the veggie, I grew worried that it would rot in the crisper alongside so many other wilted (and well-intended) turnips, carrots, and radishes. Then, as I sat wedged between Hook and another passenger in the farthest-back seat bank of the 5, it hit me: Ali had a recipe for Greek okra!
The next day I called sis to get the scoop. She was on campus (i.e., not anywhere near the cookbook that contained said recipe), but she did recall that the recipe called for “two teacups of olive oil.”
“I think they mean espresso cups,” she said. “You could probably just use however much oil you want.”
The recipe was fairly simple: soak okra (cleaned and with stems removed) in a bowl of cold water and vinegar; sautee onions and garlic in olive oil; add [drained] okra, tomato sauce, tomatoes, and spices; simmer for 1.5 hours.
I made a few modifications to the recipe that Ali shared. For instance, I used grape instead of Roma tomatoes, grape being what I had on hand, and I simmered my mixture for about 45 minutes rather than the hour and a half. (Note: I used far less okra and far fewer tomatoes than called for, so 45 minutes was ample cooking time.)
The finished product was a bright, fragrant dish, delicious served hot or at room temperature:
I can say with 70% certainty that I’ll buy okra again. It has a beautiful shape; in fact, I almost bought a pair of okra-pod-shaped earrings on Etsy, but wouldn’t have been able to wear them without feeling like a hack since I’d never tried the veggie! I’m also fascinated by several unusual textural features of the pods, namely their “sliminess” and their seeds, which pop like caviar when bitten. I didn’t notice much of the okra’s characteristic “goo,” but this might owe to my method of preparation. Cooked, as the okra was, in tomato sauce, the goo might simply have combined with the dish’s other liquids to become unnoticeable.
I’ve been told that the best way to minimize the presence of goo is to 1) fry the okra, Southern-style; or 2) cook it with acidic ingredients. (Perhaps the vinegar’s and the tomatoes’ acidity cut down on slime release.) I’ll test both of these hypotheses before okra goes out of season and get back to you all with my findings; after all, trying new recipes and eating naturally-occurring slime are two of my favorite pursuits.