Apparently, “gumbo” is Swahili for “okra”.
In Japan it is known as “okura”. In Cuba, as "quimbombo.”
If you love okra, I hear you.
If you hate okra, I hear you too.
In many countries okra is the king of summer vegetables, but here in the States, minus the Great American South, it can be slippery slope. Literally, for these little green torpedo shaped veggies produce that particular slippery, gooey, gummy, gelatinous substance; I try very hard not to call it slime, because this is a food blog and in the food blogging world we try hard to make things look appetizing, but slime it is. Here we go, I said it. Actually, the slime is somewhat more scientifically called mucilage. It is on the inside of the pod, surrounding the seeds; if you are into biology you may think of it as the cytoplasm of okra. Greatly cherished in West African, Caribbean and southeastern cuisines, the magnificent thickening agent in soups, stews, gumbos and stuffed okra dishes, in my part of the world it is something we cherish from distance. For it taste good, oh it tastes really good, but then there is the little problem with the cytoplasm...
I’ve spent countless hours researching the subject of mucilage elimination and creative uses for okra. I found very little on former and quite a bit on later subject. Did you know that baobab leaves also produce mucilage when cooked? Perhaps you were not aware that there is some investigation into using slime industrially as a low-friction lubricant? Apparently, carbohydrate based mucilage, also referred to as “okra gum”, can be employed to replace milk-fat in ice creams and, according to one study, “it produced fat-free chocolate bar cookies with acceptable sensory characteristics." Back to the subject of mucilage elimination, in my early research I found several articles explaining how subjecting okra pods to heat only increases the amount of slime coming out. “Do not cook okra to death,” they say; alas, in my case this valuable information came way too late, given that I had already discovered it through my repeated attempts to reduce gooey liquid via vigilant cooking. Some folks recommend keeping pods extra-dry as reliable slime extermination technique. I believe that someone even mentioned hairdryer. More practical souls resort to quick cooking treatments, such as flash frying. And then, there is the cornmeal, the quintessential southern ingredient, which coupled with the quintessential southern approach of frying things dipped into it, still rules in my little okra kingdom.
And just as I thought that enough has been said on the subject of fried okra, and just as the first okra of this summer hits the market, flipping through the pages of Southern Living June issue, I discover a twist on the all-time favorite -- Smashed Fried Okra. You guys might have known about it, but all this time, I have been living in darkness. Needless to say, I spent entire last week making smashed fried okra for dinner. Every night. Seven days in a row. We just could not have enough of it. In an effort to introduce diversity into our new dinner menu, on day three I added some smoked paprika to the cornmeal. On day four, we realized that a nice dipping sauce might come in handy; hence I created the sweet red pepper mustard. Another hit. As I type this post, we are still living in the okra heaven. Until further notice...
Cornmeal Crusted Smashed Fried Okra
Gently adapted from Southern Living
* 1 lb fresh okra
* 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
* 2 cups fine yellow cornmeal (I used Bob's Red Mill)
* sunflower oil
* kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
* cayenne pepper or smoked paprika (optional)
Using a meat mallet or pestle, smash the okra pods starting at the tip of the pod and working toward the stem end. To create more surface area for the batter, using a knife, make two or three incisions lengthwise.
Place the buttermilk in a shallow dish. Place the cornmeal in another shallow dish. (If you choose to do so, add paprika or cayenne to the cornmeal and mix well.) Stir desired amount of salt and pepper into buttermilk and cornmeal. Sprinkle the okra with salt too.
Dip the okra in buttermilk then dredge in cornmeal, shaking off excess.
Pour oil to a depth of two inches into a large Dutch oven; heat the oil to 350°F. Fry okra, in batches, about 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until brown and crisp. (Turn only once.)
Using a slotted spoon, remove okra and drain on paper towels. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
Sweet Red Pepper Mustard
* 2 large sweet red peppers (about 1 lb 2 oz)
* 1/2 cup yellow mustard
* 1/4 cups turbinado sugar
* 1/4 cup honey
* 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
* 1/2 tsp turmeric
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 2 tbsp corn starch
* 2 tbsp water
Remove the stems and seeds from the peppers and cut them into pieces. Place the peppers into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Add the sugar, honey, mustard, cider vinegar, turmeric and salt and process until fully blended.
Place the red pepper mixture into a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Remove the sauce pan from the heat. In a small bowl mix the cornstarch and water into uniform slurry. Add the slurry to the sauce pan, whisk until incorporated and return the saucepan to the stove. Continue to simmer, stirring constantly, for about two to three minutes. (Be careful not to overook or the sauce will thin again.)
Remove the saucepan from the stove and strain through a strainer; it will give it wonderful velvety texture. Let the mustard cool.
Serve cold or at room temperature.
If you are not using the mustard within a week, pour the hot mustard into sterilized jars and seal with sterilized lids. Process in a boiling water about 10 minutes and store.