Sunday, September 14, 2014

Okra-Phobic? Turn Up The Heat.

Poor okra.  The mere utterance of the word elicits immediate groans, turned-up noses, and one particular adjective: Slimy.  Even those deceptively tempting deep-fried bits are disappointing—oily golden batter goodness on the outside, slimy little okra nugget on the inside.  This sensory image makes all the okra-phobes cringe, right?  It’s not on the Oxford Dictionaries “official” list of phobias, but it’s clearly a problem for many of us.  If you can’t resist perusing a list, here’s the link. You might discover you have some other fun phobias, too, like a fear of itching (acarophobia) or fear of work (ergophobia). Happy reading!  a-list-of-phobias-from-atelophobia-to-zelotypophobia/  

Mother Nature is always smarter than we are (of course) and she designed a purpose for these hairy little pods.  The substance that makes them slimy inside is the same thing we love about the aloe vera plant we reach for when we burn a finger or stay in the sun too long.  This magic goop they share is made of sugar residues called exopolysacharrides and proteins called glycoproteins.  It’s best when used as a natural thickening agent for soups, gumbo, etc.  What’s the non-scientific name of this substance?  Mucilage.  Remember that amber-colored glue you had when you were in first grade? That’s the stuff. It’s no wonder more kids preferred to ingest plain old white school paste over mucilage.  I don’t recall seeing any of my classmates enjoying a swig of adhesive from those small glass bottles we all had in our desks.  I am proud to say I never ingested any paste, mucilage, or play-doh. I was the nerd who liked broccoli. 

Okra deserves our respect, nonetheless, for its high fiber content and its complete lack of fat and cholesterol.  Some people claim it helps lower blood sugar, too.  I found a few surprising applications for mucilage while reading about these “lady’s fingers” as they are known in other parts of the world. Researchers in Canada are experimenting with okra slime as an ice cream ingredient to replace the guar gum usually added to maintain a creamy texture.  Are you wondering what’s happened to all the guar gum?  Fracking.  Apparently the Big Energy companies have bought up all the guar gum to keep their equipment running smoothly.  While I don’t like the idea of okra goop in my ice cream, I’m even less charmed by the effects of fracking and (subsequent) earthquakes and climate change.  Here's the link to the CBC article: Okra Slime Tested to Keep Ice Cream Creamy  

One helpful lady has decided that okra goop makes a dandy hair conditioner. She recommends using mucilage as a chemical-free alternative to hair gel. It's nice of her to advise that we can "mask that unmistakable okra scent" by adding essential oil of lavender or mint. Are you laughing? She's not kidding. 

Now that you know far more about okra than you thought was possible (at least I do), let’s get back to the food.  Michel does NOT back away from a challenge. Whether it’s wrestling with a beastly violin passage or a clogged drain pipe, he is relentless.  Okra’s slimy, mealy texture is no match for him.  His solution?  Heat.  Oven roasting and hot peppers.  This new recipe incorporates some very hot peppers which “cut right through to the basic essence of a tasty gumbo.”   Michel says you can use a normal sweet pepper, but the hotter, the better for dealing with the okra problem.  For this dish he says one jalapeno or one habanero is “really groovy” but a combination of the two is “even groovier.”  He used red chilies, jalapeno, and habanero.  HOT, HOT, and HOT.

And a brief word from Michel about buying fresh okra:  “Don’t buy big pods.  Choose the ones that are no bigger than your ring finger. Make sure they’re nice and firm and unblemished.”  Michel says he learned his lesson about buying large okra.  It was too “fiber-y.” Ready to cook? Here you go!

Roasted Okra with Peppers

You will need:
·        Fresh okra, about 2 cups
·        ½ an onion, thinly sliced
·        4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
·        1 teaspoon salt
·        2 small red hot chili peppers (not the rock band), finely chopped
·        1 habanero pepper, finely chopped
·        1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
·        Olive oil
·        Fresh basil, oregano, or mint, chopped—whatever herb “you have handy” will work

Heat oven to 400 degrees. 

Cover a baking sheet with foil unless you just really enjoy the dishwashing experience. 

Remove tops from okra pods, then slice in half lengthwise.

Place okra, onion, peppers, garlic in a bowl and top with “a healthy drizzle” of olive oil.

Mix ingredients while sprinkling with salt to make sure everything is nicely coated with olive oil.

Spread mixture on baking sheet and place in preheated oven.

Roast for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees. 

Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with fresh herb of your choice.  Eat!

Another note from Michel about roasting time: “Watch to see that the pods dry out enough and the onion browns a little.”  If you think your pods aren’t slime-less enough after 15 minutes, let them roast a little longer.