published Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Braly: Readers rush to okra's defense

It's amazing the number of okra lovers out there. A recent column proved it, with several readers hoping to prove me wrong about my hatred for boiled okra. This is one of my favorite responses:

"I read you religiously; however, you have now crossed the line," Claudette Finkle wrote in an e-mail. "I was raised in Texas but stopped off in Colorado for 30-plus years before landing in Chattanooga, the veggie lover's delight this time of year. My husband is in your okra camp, no questions. Missy, I have brought several okra haters over to my side."

Here is Ms. Finkle's favorite way to make okra, along with several other methods sent in by readers.

* Ms. Finkle says her favorite way to eat okra is to cook it on a hot grill, leaving grill marks, and serving it as an appetizer with ranch dressing. "The sky is the limit, really, what you can do with grilled okra," she wrote.

"The idea came when I saw the intriguing item on the Boathouse Restaurant's menu," she said. "It couldn't be simpler with double skewers on a grill. Toss it in olive oil and sea salt, skewer those babies, and yum, yum, yum. Just try it. Now, I feel better for letting you know."

* Miriam Cornwell said she cannot tolerate slimy okra when it's boiled either, so she came up with the idea of cooking it with canned tomatoes. The acid in the tomatoes, she said, keeps the okra from getting slimy. "I simply put the amount of okra I think I can eat in a couple of meals, cut up some whole canned tomatoes and pour some of the tomato juice over this, then stew over low heat until the okra is crisp-tender."

* An anonymous reader said that she would have agreed with me about slimy okra until she tried the crispy, fried okra at Canyon Grill, the Rising Fawn, Ga., restaurant owned by he same folks, Karen and Lawton Haygood, who own the Boathouse on Riverside Drive. Once she tried their version, she was hooked, so she tried preparing it the same way at home and came up with good results.

"It's so easy," she wrote. "Just cut it lengthwise, toss it lightly in cornmeal with a little salt and pepper and sauté it in a little olive oil and pat of butter for just a few short minutes 'til it's crisp-tender. Yum!"

For a good Southern meal, she recommends serving the fried okra with mashed potatoes, fried corn and fresh tomatoes.

* And here's one from Hunter Huckabay, retired pastor of St. Paul's Episcopal, whose Louisiana roots run deep: "You absolutely cannot make real Louisiana gumbo without okra! Young and tender okra sliced, battered and fried ain't bad either," he said.

* And here's another suggestion from a man of the cloth, the Rev. Jeff Briere, who says his former wife showed him how to cook it. "She sliced the pods into discs and dusted them with a flour and cornmeal mix, seasoned with salt and pepper. Then she lightly fried them in a little oil. When done, they resembled tempura-battered vegetables. Very good and not at all slimy."

* Caroline Cavett says her heart aches for those who dislike okra, though she does understand the revulsion of the slime. Here's the secret, she added: Cook some crowder peas in a bit of water seasoned with ham hocks, then drop in whole okra pods, hard tops removed. Once done, turn the water down and let it simmer just long enough for the okra to come to a pretty green color. "At that point it will be wonderfully tasty and almost chewy," she said.

* Vicki McCoy said she can understand my dislike for boiled okra. She didn't like it either until last summer when she started grilling it, then oven-roasting it. First, she said, coat it well with extra-virgin olive oil, then sprinkle liberally with Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning. Grill or roast until semi-charred. "Voila! No slime. They are wonderful," she said.

* Finally, Linda Morris sent this recipe, a Southern favorite. It's delicious, with no slime, she added.

Pickled Okra

2 pounds tender okra, about 3 inches long

4 small hot red pepper pods or 1/8 teaspoon crushed, dried, hot red pepper

4 cloves garlic, peeled

3 cups white vinegar

2 cups water

1/3 cup salt

1 teaspoon celery or mustard seed (optional)

Wash okra well and drain. Prick okra with fork and pack lengthwise with points alternately down and up in hot sterilized pint jars. Put 1 pepper pod and 1 garlic clove in each jar. Combine vinegar with water, salt and celery seed in saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour at once over okra, filling to 1/2 inch from top. Seal at once; then process in boiling-water bath for 5 minutes. Let okra stand several weeks before serving to allow flavor to develop and okra to become crisp.

What a delicious bevy of slimeless okra ideas, thanks to our many okra-loving readers.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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