Okra, it's from Africa with an authentic African name. Some love it, others avoid it. Many depend on it, still many others have never tried it.
Here's exherpts from the NY Times report: "It's Not Fair What They Say About Okra"By KAY RENTSCHLER from NEWBORN, Ga.
"Southerners can see, first of all, that okra is a good-looking vegetable, one that bolts from creamy-gold flower to perfect two-inch pod in three to four days. Whole pods are simply cute. Okra slices, on the other hand, are beautiful bands of green around a floral inlay of seeds.
Southerners know how to cook okra. Steam whole pods, and get close to the delicacy of asparagus, but one that shimmers on the tongue. Take okra from a spoon in a savory broth, and experience the mild sweetness of the pearly seeds before they go off in your head with a bright ping. Toss breaded pieces into a pan, and discover the crisp, supple texture of fried eggplant.
Okra's problems begin and end with the clear viscous liquid that flows from its seeds. In the wrong hands, it has been responsible for creating thousands of okra haters. Botanists call it mucilage; Southerners, matter-of-factly, call it slime.
But not everyone is bothered by it. In fact, when Southerners speak of okra's richness, it is the mucilage they applaud. You who are not fans, take heart: the flow of this liquid can be minimized by cooking techniques. Southern cooks have been doing it for years.
Okra has been on permanent loan to the American South since African and West Indian slaves cultivated and cooked it during colonial and antebellum times. Charleston, S.C., and New Orleans both contend that okra entered the country through their ports first.
Over the years — and beyond okra's courtship with tomatoes — it has become synonymous with gumbo, a thick stew top-loaded with smoked meat, seafood and vegetables and served over rice in New Orleans. (The word gumbo emanated from a West African word for okra.)
But a gumbo does not have to contain okra: Creole gumbo, for instance, does not. And plenty of okra stews — particularly in Georgia and the Carolinas — are not gumbos and would not want to be called so. Around these parts okra stews (lacking the French-Acadian influence that took roux to the cuisine of New Orleans) are thickened with okra alone. They always contain tomatoes.
The trick to using okra in a stew is to sear the slices first, said Susan Wigley, a chef and an associate professor of culinary arts at Johnson and Wales University in Charleston. Ms. Wigley said that dry heat upfront keeps most pod juices hovering around the seeds, not allowing it to wash into the broth.
Cooking time is also crucial. For okra and tomato stew, Michael Tuohy, the owner and chef at the Woodfire Grill in Atlanta, gives the okra a quick sear and a relatively quick simmer. The stew — which arrives dancing with corn, and fat with Savannah white shrimp and sausage — is beautiful to behold. The okra is green and tender, and the broth silky and rich.
SOUTHERNERS also fry okra to seal its exits. Deep-frying involves three-layer breading and several inches of hot fat. But the all-encompassing heat and the heavy, starched petticoat crumb can obscure both the flavor and the texture of the pods.
When shopping for okra, look for slender, bright green, velvety pods that snap easily at the tips. They should have a subtle give and no black spots or ridges. Freshness is paramount: a week off the vine finds okra tough and fibrous.
Before cooking okra, give it a quick bath to rinse the fuzzy prickles from its pods. And don't give it anything to cry about — cut it just before you use it.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company