My garden is nothing to speak of this year. The parsley and collards have reseeded themselves wherever they saw fit. Some of last year’s onions and kale are lingering. A couple rows of carrots came up from the seeds I planted, if you can discern them from the parsley. And I have a few tomato plants–some from a friend who gave me seed starts and a couple of grape tomato volunteers. Watering was a big chore most of July and it seems the extreme heat took a lot out of everybody. Except the okra.
I’ve never grown okra before, and I’ve rarely eaten it except for trips to the Deep South. In New Jersey, where I grew up, it seems our standard plantings were tomatoes, summer squash, chard, lettuce, and green beans, which my sisters and I would laboriously weed around every summer. So when I saw okra seedlings for sale at the Holland Farmers Market back in May I figured, what the hay. They seem to have taken awhile to get going but I finally have okra pods, which is the part we get to eat!
Apparently okra thrives in the heat, which is likely why it’s prevalent in the South. But when to pick the pods? And then what? First I Googled “how to grow okra” and came across Chris’ Backyard Gardening Blog, which was extremely helpful in answering my questions. (And, Chris just happens to be from Lower Michigan!) I’m glad I researched it, too, because you should not pick okra with your bare hands. The tiny spines on the pods and leaves can irritate skin. I used a combination pruning shear and tongs to snag them when they were ready for harvesting.
The only way I remember seeing or tasting okra is fried or in soups and gumbo. Again, I did a little research, this time for okra recipes. And I was glad I did because many of the comments I read about recipes mention its slimy-ness. If there’s one texture I despise in my mouth, it’s slimy. (No mushrooms for me, please!)
Luckily, I found Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe in the New York Times for Roasted Okra. Roasting anything in an oven at 450 degrees in the middle of summer is not appealing but on a cool day I tried it. I think you could easily grill the okra instead but this is definitely the way to go to avoid slimy vegetables, and to keep it simple. Nothing beats olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roasted okra makes a lovely side dish to accompany Pork Steak on the Grill and collards!