I was encouraged a few weeks ago to take advantage of the incredible variety of my local farmer’s market and make an effort to cook with ONE vegetable or fruit each week that I had never cooked with before. Well, for anyone who hasn’t been to the Durham Farmers’ Market, let me just tell you- there are some pretty gnarly looking veggies there. I mean… what in the world are plumcots? How do you cook with ramps? Anyone know the number of licks it takes to get to the center of “lollipop kale”?
Since I didn’t get to make it to the Farmers’ Market this week, I decided to start slowly. Why not try cooking with something I’d eaten before and knew I’d liked, but never actually prepared from start to finish?
This “signature southern ingredient,” according to Southern Living, is not only cheap, but it is extremely versatile. Okra can be fried, baked, grilled, pickled, or even eaten raw (though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that). With origins in West Africa, it thrives in the summer heat and has become a Southern staple right up there with Bojangles and sweet tea.
Okra is also a nutritional powerhouse. Low in calories (if you don’t fry it), with only 30 cal per 1 cup or about 8 pods, it’s also high in fiber to keep you full (12% of your DV). Okra boasts a whopping 2 g of protein per cup, too!. It is also known to aid in digestive peristalsis to “keep you regular,” and is high in vitamins A (for antioxidant properties, vision, and skin health), C (builds immunity), and K (aids in blood-clotting ability and builds strong bones). Could this get any better?
Fun fact: did you know that okra is also sometimes referred to as “lady’s fingers”? I don’t know any ladies who have fingers that are that fat or ridged, let alone green… but apparently it’s a thing.
I’d had okra before, even dabbled in using the frozen version for some stews (remember my succotash recipe from last spring?) but had never prepped it or cooked with it from scratch. While I’m sure I still have a lot to learn on the okra front, I think I did pretty well here. I tried to keep things simple, sticking to a simple roast in the oven (I was originally going to grill them but an unexpected babysitting request came up- next time!).
I paired the okra “fries” with a simple roasted pepper & mushroom salad with white beans and a lemon-caper vinaigrette. I wasn’t sure how the okra (seasoned with chili powder and some red pepper flakes) would pair with the lighter, more mediterranean flavors, but they actually worked together quite nicely! I served the salad with the okra fries over some quinoa and spinach, with a few cubes of leftover balsamic tofu, feta cheese and greek yogurt.
Next time I think I would cook the okra at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time. Broiled might also have been something to try. It was still good, but it turned out a bit more on the chewy side when I would have preferred it to be a bit crispier. This way was a time-saver though, as I was able to bake the okra at the same time I was baking the salad.
If you wanted to make the salad more of an entree on its own, you could definitely add a grain or potato to the bottom of the casserole dish before baking (just make sure to add a few cups of liquid like chicken broth for the grains to soak up!)- quinoa, barley, brown rice, or lentils would all be good. I also want to try sweet potatoes!
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 yellow and 1 red bell pepper, chopped roughly
- 1 cup baby bella mushrooms, sliced
- 1/4 cup roughly chopped kalamata olives
- 2 tbsp capers and their brine
- 2 cups broccoli and cauliflower florets
- 1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 bunch parsley, minced
- salt and pepper, to taste
- For Okra Chips:
- cooking spray
- fresh okra, halved lengthwise
- pinch each of red pepper flakes, chili powder, and salt, to taste
- In a large saute pan, heat 1 tbsp oil. Add onion, garlic, thyme, and oregano and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the peppers and mushrooms and continue to cook until tender (but not mushy). Remove from heat.
- In a separate bowl, mix together remaining oil, olives, capers, broccoli/cauliflower, white beans, garlic powder, lemon, and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir well.
- Preheat oven to 350. In a 9×12 casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray, layer the broccoli mixture and pour the pepper mixture on top, stirring to combine.
- Bake at 350, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes or until broccoli is tender.
- Serve with feta cheese over any grain of your choice!
- For the Okra Chips:
- Layer halved okra on a sheet pan lined with foil and sprayed well with cooking spray. Sprinkle with spices of your choice (suggested ones above) and bake on the lower rack from the time when the oven is preheating to the time the veggie bake is done, or until crispy.