Saturday, July 2, 2016

Cokranut? Crispy Roasted Okra with Coconut (vegan)


Crispy Roasted Okra with Coconut (vegan)

Have you ever eaten a Cronut®? How about a croissan’wich? Maybe a turducken?

I’m an insufferable, incurable word nerd and grammar peeve—which often drives Michel crazy—so I couldn’t help but combine the ingredients in his new okra/coconut recipe to coin the word Cokranut. Makes sense to me and it sounds way more appetizing than a frozen food product called “tofurkey.” The enterprising New York baker Dominique Ansel has actually trademarked his Cronut (doughnut/croissant) invention. We have no plans to visit his Soho establishment but I wouldn’t mind trying the locally available, legally equivalent “doughssant.”

American consumers are accustomed to the blending of words to describe a hybrid fruit like a pluot or a dog breed like the labradoodle. We’ve long understood the employment of the portmanteau to make familiar terms like brunch and smog. Some of these combinations are uncannily descriptive, like “spork.” It’s the perfect name for an unreliable plastic utensil that often breaks at the slightest provocation. “Frenemy” leaves no doubt as to a relationship status. However, I find contrivances like “guesstimate” just plain annoying.

Now that technology has overtaken our communication, even more elisions are part of our daily parlance. Take this “blog,” for example. Clearly, the physical effort required to vocalize that extra syllable in “web log” is too much for us. Thank goodness we have emojis to save us the time and trouble of using actual words to express our thoughts.

Back to the okra topic at hand. I will spare you the part about the origins of the word, but I did find it surprising to learn that: (a) okra is related to the hollyhock plant, and (b) those fuzzy green pods are commonly called ladyfingers in the eastern hemisphere. Whatever you call it, the pods we eat are technically the fruit of the okra plant.

Abelmoschus esculentus, a/k/a Okra plant

Those of you who survived a southern Protestant upbringing like I did will recall a different kind of ladyfingers—those pale, spongy, non-threatening cookies our mothers bought to assemble magazine recipe desserts for a church social or other clubby event. The unspoken, intangible prize for most remarkable dessert would go to “She who incorporated the most pre-packaged ingredients;” usually the most unnatural color of Jell-O garnered all the oohs and ahhs.  

Ladyfingers cookies (savoiardi) are the foundation of traditional Italian tiramisu, of course, but the sinful liquor part of the recipe was prohibitive for the local cooks in my limited orbit. None of us had a clue that in other parts of the world ladyfingers were a totally different thing.

Most online sources agree that the okra plant is native to northeast Africa and spread from there to the Middle East and the rest of Asia. Bhinda (okra) is a familiar ingredient in Indian dishes such as bhindi masala and bhindi curry. Michel was inspired to invent a new recipe when he found some beautiful fresh okra on a recent trip to Patel Brothers market. As usual, he enjoyed querying the other okra shoppers about how they cook it. Patel patrons' responses are always friendly and sometimes quite animated as they share personal anecdotes about family meals. These pleasant exchanges make grocery shopping a lot more fun.   

This easy roasted okra/coconut recipe is not so far-fetched given the influence of Indonesian/Asian cooking on Dutch cuisine, due in no small part to the 17th century establishment of the Dutch Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), or the Dutch United East India Company. Dutch politics and historical trade wars aside (which Michel will gladly discuss with you), this “cokranut” dish will please even the staunchest okra foes. It is also a lighter, more healthful alternative to the stir-fry Indian bhindi masala with its sugary, oily coating.  


Heat oven to 400 degrees with top rack in highest position.
Cover baking pan/cookie sheet with foil.                                                                                                             

You will need:

Fresh okra (any amount will work, depending on how many people you are feeding)

Unsweetened coconut flakes—probably ¼ to ½ cup, enough to sprinkle on top

Olive oil (enough for a thorough drizzling)

Salt and pepper to taste

Wash okra pods, then cut into ½” pieces.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil.

Use a spatula to coat the okra slices evenly. “Dredge them through the oil,” per Michel.

Roast for 10-15 minutes then remove pan and turn okra to cook the other side.

Return pan to oven for 10-15 minutes more.

During the last 5 minutes of cooking, sprinkle cooked okra with unsweetened coconut flakes.

Okra is done when coconut flakes are brown. 

Transfer to serving dish and watch your okranut disappear.  Yummy!