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Okra, including the red and purple varieties, is now in season and available at farmers markets throughout the Bay Area. The most common variety is green, but if you see red or purple, snag them, as they are beautiful as well as delicious.

Okra can be a challenge if you’ve had a bad experience, which typically means it has been slimy. It oozes a sticky liquid when it is first cooked, much as nopales cactus does. Yet cooked in a dry pan, this liquid evaporates quickly, a technique good for salads but not when you’ll be using the okra in soup, gumbo or stew, as the liquid serves as a thickening agent.

This unique-looking vegetable was likely introduced to North America by African slaves, as it is abundant on that continent. The word gumbo comes from the word “gombo,” as okra is known in certain parts of Africa. Gumbo isn’t really gumbo without it. Okra is also used in traditional Indian and Middle Eastern cooking.

Like most vegetables, okra is full of good nutrients, high in fiber and low in calories and fat.

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Make this salad when fresh okra and fresh corn are available at our farmers markets. You’ll find very good merguez at Sonoma County Meat Co. (35 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa). You can omit the sausage for a vegetarian version and omit the rice if you prefer fewer carbohydrates.

Grilled Okra & Corn Salad with Sausage and Rice
Serves 4 to 6

12-14 okra
2 onions, peeled
— Olive oil
3 poblanos
3 ears of corn, shucked
— Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/4 cup lime juice (from 1 to 2 limes)
— Black pepper in a mill
1 pound merguez or other sausage of choice
3 1/2 cups steamed rice (from 1 cup uncooked rice)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 lime, cut into wedges

Build a charcoal fire in an outdoor grill or prepare a gas or propane grill.

Thread 3 or 4 okra onto two parallel wooden skewers, spearing the okra on each end.

If the onions are round, cut them into thick crosswise slices. If they are torpedo onions, cut them in half lengthwise. Brush the onions with olive oil and grill them until they are tender and evenly browned but not burned, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a work surface. Grill the poblanos, turning frequently, until the skins are blistered. Set in a bowl and cover with a tea towel.

Grill the corn, turning frequently, until it is evenly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a work surface. Grill the okra skewers, turning once, until lightly and evenly marked, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Cut the onion into small dice and put it in a wide, shallow bowl.

Cut the corn from the cobs and add it to the bowl with the onions. Peel the poblanos, remove the stems and seed cores, cut into medium julienne, and add to the bowl. Cut the stem ends from the okra, slice each pod into 1/4-inch rounds, and add to the bowl.

Toss the vegetables together. Season with salt, add the chipotle powder, and toss gently. Add the lime juice, about 1/3 cup olive oil and several turns of black pepper. Toss thoroughly. Taste the salad and adjust the seasoning, adding more olive oil if it is too tart. Cover and let rest 30 minutes.

While the salad rests, grill the sausage, let cool slightly and cut into half moons. Toss with the salad.

To serve, put the rice into a wide shallow bowl and top it with the salad. Scatter cilantro on top, garnish with lemon wedges, and enjoy right away.

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This soup, which comes from Nigeria in West Africa, is full of the flavors of fall and makes a perfect dinner on a weeknight, especially if you have homemade stock in your freezer or pantry.

Okra Soup
Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons peanut or olive oil
1 yellow or white onion, cut into small dice
3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
— Kosher salt
3 dozen okra, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 serranos or other hot chiles, minced
4 small (golf-ball size) tomatoes, peeled, seeded and minced
4 cups homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups cooked white rice
— Juice of 1/2 lemon
— Black pepper in a mill
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Pour the oil into a medium saucepan or soup pot set over medium low heat, add the onion, and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 12 minutes; do not let the onion brown. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Season with salt.

Add the okra, stir and sauté until it softens and releases its gel. Continue to cook until the gel evaporates. Add the paprikas, cumin, serranos, tomatoes and stock and cook for about 10 minutes, until the okra is tender. Add the rice and enough water to create the desired consistency and cook for 10 minutes more.

Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

Add the lemon juice and several turns of black pepper. Taste and correct for salt.

Ladle into soup bowls, top with cilantro, and enjoy right away.

Variation: Use an immersion blender to purée the soup before adding the rice. Add the lemon juice and several turns of black pepper, ladle into soup plates, add a scoop of rice to each serving, garnish with cilantro, and enjoy right away.

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A tagine is a slow-cooked stew, similar to a curry. This one has its roots in Morocco. You can use pork instead of lamb if you prefer, but pork is not typically eaten in Morocco. It is delicious in this stew, but not traditional.

Lamb & Okra Tagine
Serves 3 to 4

3 tablespoons peanut oil
1 pound okra, stemmed and sliced into thin rounds
1 pound lamb shoulder, cut into small cubes
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
— Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
3 1/2 cups steamed rice, from 1 cup uncooked rice
1/2 cup green olives, pitted
1/4 cup preserved lemons, rinds only, cut into thin julienne
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
— Chermoula, optional (see Note below)

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan set over medium low heat. Add the okra and fry, stirring frequently, for 5 to 6 minutes, until lightly browned. Increase the heat to medium, add the lamb, season with salt and pepper, and cook until evenly browned.

Add the garlic, tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and 1 cup of water, decrease the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the lamb is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Taste and correct for salt.

To serve, divide among individual soup plates, pasta plates or wide bowls. Set a large scoop of rice in the center of each serving, garnish with olives, preserved lemons and cilantro and enjoy right away, with the Chermoula, if using, alongside.

Note: Chermoula is a condiment popular throughout North Africa. It is in the same family of sauces as Italian salsa verde and Argentina chimichurri. For a recipe, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

Michele Anna Jordan is author of the new “Good Cook’s” series. Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com and visit her blog at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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