I used to start okra early in cell packs. Not until after the spent peas or favas were pulled out in early summer, did they get finally planted out – all miserable after such an over-extended stay in tight quarters. In bad years, I would even try to use them as a late crop and direct seed them sometimes in July – or even early August. Like I do for beans. What a waste. Never could they produce a good crop. Never could I harvest enough. And I resented the space they took too.
Okra loves the kind of weather I despise: hot, muggy, sultry, air so thick with suspended water vapor you feel you are in a steam sauna… bugs a-bonus and no icy fount to cool in. That what they want to grow and fruit. If I must put a sweater on, okra sulks. The wrong side of 60° F for more than 2 days, and okra retires!
So, having decided that okra deserves its own bed early on, and needs not languish until after I belatedly pull up something to make room to cram it in, I direct seeded in mid-to-late-May. It has been loving it. Make enough mistakes and you can learn too!
It is now almost as tall as I, lush with those lovely cream-colored hibiscus flowers. They last less than a day, but they keep coming. And so I am harvesting lots of okra pods from my dozen plants. Enough to have several meals of it a week — and enough to freeze some too for winter gombos . Yesss. Don’t you love gombo? I do…
I must check the patch every other day. The fruit grow very fast and should be harvested when still small for optimum tenderness. The size of my index finger is ideal. Smaller is fine, and up to 6 inches can work – but check as they can get tough and fibrous fast. But if they become overgrown, it is chicken-treat time: split the pods and throw the seeds to the hens – a comical and noisy interlude follows (the seeds are edible by humans too – but it’s much more fun to feed Lady Gaga and her sisters who just love them).
And yes, okra gets mucilaginous when it cooks – that is part of its charm. Cooking it dry can help somewhat but it has that stickiness that let it be used as a thickener. If you don’t like that kind of texture, you may want to skip okra. Or rethink your prejudices. Still, I suggest you don’t juice it — as a friend of mine tried to do. DON’T ask. Please.
Okra goes well with the other fruit-vegetables of summer: tomatoes, pepper, eggplants, and I like to throw them in a kind of ratatouille. But they do get lost in a vegetable stew. In okra season, I prefer to eat okra not very much adulterated. Like in this recipe.
- oil or lard for sautéing
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 1 lb fresh tender okra, conical top cut-off, then cut cross wise in 1/2″ pieces
- 1 medium onion, chopped fairly small
- 1 juicy lemon
- 2 gloves garlic, minced
- 1 or 2 red serrano or other fresh hot red chile peppers – more or less o taste
- Salt to taste
Melt your fat in a large thick-bottom skillet until hot. Add cumin seeds and let sizzle about 10 seconds. Add okra and onions, spreading them evenly in a single layer. Sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until onions start to brown. Squeeze half lemon juice over. Lower heat to medium. Give it another 5 minutes. Add garlic and chile and remaining lemon juice.Stir gently. Lower heat. Cook another 5 minutes. Salt to taste.