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.
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
2 onions, peeled
— Olive oil
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.