Up until this year, I’d never really thought much about okra. Just about my only experience with it was in some sort of gumbo, somewhere, many years ago… and I wasn’t impressed. It’s not that I didn’t like it; it’s more that it was never really an option. I didn’t grow up eating it, I didn’t see it in the grocery store, and it never appeared on any menus that I’ve noticed — except for that gumbo situation. And maybe deep fried.
So it was with some surprise that I found myself inexplicably drawn to a sprawling display of okra at the Grand Army Plaza farmer’s market a few weeks ago. I had only a vague memory of what okra tasted like and absolutely no notion of what to do with it, which of course meant that I had to fill a bag to take home with me.
I know, this sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? (Get it? recipe for disaster? Ah haha!)
Well, somewhere between bringing my bulging bag of okra to the register and walking in my front door, I remembered my George Forman grill. And suddenly, I knew what I wanted to do with my okra: I wanted to grill them. And then I wanted to sprinkle them with something… sea salt and… something smoky, but not necessarily spicy… aha! Paprika.
So I did.
And they were delicious. Originally I had thought to squeeze some lemon or sprinkle some vinegar on them, but found that they didn’t really need it. They were so delicious as they were, sprinkled with salt and paprika hot off the grill and then allowed to sit until just warmer than room temperature, that none of them even made it to the refrigerator — which was, originally, the plan.
That’s right: I ate them all, and even licked my fingers afterwards.
Later, when I puffed and preened and raved to my friend (who happens to be from Arkansas, and somewhat more familiar with okra than my Northeast born-and-raised self) about this delicious, couldn’t-stop-eating-it okra I had thrown together with practically nothing, she said,
“But isn’t it slimy?”
And actually, I had to think about it… but no, it wasn’t. Not really. She was a little puzzled, as was I… but after some thought, I’ve come up with a few reasons why: The first is that the okra was pressed between the two plates of the grill — and that smushing probably helped cook the insides. The second is that I did grill them for a good long while — not until they were just cooked, but for another two or three minutes beyond that, turning them over and around once or twice, until they were somewhat flattened and split at the edges and had pretty little grill marks hatching both sides. Finally, leaving them on a plate, uncovered, to release a lot of their steam and cool off until just warmer than room temperature probably allowed them to dry out a bit.
In any case, whatever it was, it worked: these little guys were delicious. And because they’re actually better eaten (in my opinion) at or around room temperature, they’re a very un-fussy side dish that can wait around until you’re ready for it, and are great picnic fare.
So if you haven’t yet tried out okra in your own kitchen, but are thinking you just might want to (now that you see how easy it is), then get out there, grab as many small ones as you can find, and give this a try. Unless you are a tried-and-true okra-hater, my guess is you’ll be quite pleased with yourself… and quite pleased to make okra’s acquaintance.
- lots of little okra
- olive oil
- sea salt or coarse salt (smoked might be great here!)
Wash your okra and then pat it dry well — it’s a little furry, so you want to make sure there’s not too much water left on it or the oil won’t stick.
Plug in your George Forman. While it’s heating up, rub a little oil into your okra. Sprinkle a little salt on it.
Line up as many okra as you can in the George Forman. Press it closed, and let them stay there for a couple of minutes with the lid closed before checking on them. Once you see grill marks, rotate them or flip them over, to get grill marks on the other side or in another direction. Close the lid, press again, and leave them in there for another couple of minutes.
Once they look decently cooked through, deflated, and are starting to split a little at the ends, take them out, lay them on a plate, and sprinkle them with a little more salt and a kiss of paprika. Let them sit there and cool while you put in the next batch of okra.
When all of your okra are done, you can get started eating the first batch that has already cooled off, or — if you can manage it — set them all aside for some other purpose. (But really, they’re best served as finger food… from your fingers, to your mouth… as soon as they’re cool.)