Wednesday, January 4, 2012

So you say you don't like okra....

...well, you might want to consider the dish we had this week on Meatless Monday.

One of the second tier goals of committing to a full year of Meatless Mondays was for me to expand my horizons, particularly as they relate to vegetables. Don't get me wrong, I'm not really a picky eater. In fact, having worked for the Japanese for more than a decade and traveling to Japan frequently, I know that I have experienced my share of, shall we say, non-traditional fare.

In the vegetable world, there are stars, there are bit players and then there are those that are misunderstood. I'm thinking that okra is in that last category. I suspect most people think of it as a "southern vegetable", and it isn't popular in large areas of the country. I never saw it growing up in NJ and, now that I live in VA, I'm not sure it's any more popular here. Sure, I've had okra here and there over the years, in Cajun dishes mostly. I've also had it battered and deep fried. Quite tasty that way - but then again what isn't tasty when it's battered and deep fried?

So, in that spirit of expanded horizons, I mentioned to Cynthia that I read about an okra and chickpea stew online and asked her if she was up for making it. Silly question really, she never shirks from a food challenge. So, this Monday night we had what turned out to be a soul satisfying, yummy, and very healthy dish that, as usual, was even better when I ate the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Here is the recipe she put together.

3/4 pound fresh okra, stem ends trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
10 sprigs fresh cilantro, plus more leaves for garnish
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup bell pepper, any color or combination of colors, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 can Muir Glen fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable broth
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound cooked chickpeas (15 ounces can works well if you’re time constrained  but I encourage you to try cooking them from dried - the flavor is superior)
salt to taste, I usually use a little less than a teaspoon 
your favorite hot sauce, I use sriracha here, to taste
Chickpeas slow cooking with a New Mexican chile pepper and bay leaf
Cook okra for two minutes in rapidly boiling salted water.  Shock in ice bath.  Drain on paper towels and set aside.
  1. Tie cilantro sprigs together with kitchen string.
  2. Heat oil a tsbp of the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add bell and jalapeno peppers. Cook, stirring, until soft, 2 to 5 minutes. Transfer half to a bowl and set aside.
  3. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and black pepper to the pepper in the pan. Cook, stirring, until the onion is soft, 3 to 6 minutes.  Add cumin and cook another 30 seconds. Mix in tomatoes, broth, okra, cilantro sprigs.  Reduce heat to medium; partially cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the okra is soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in chickpeas and salt; cook for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat; discard the cilantro sprigs. Stir in hot sauce and check seasoning. Serve sprinkled with the remaining bell pepper and cilantro leaves, if desired. 
We served it with whole grain na'an bread and a side dish made up of the leftover spinach dip from New Years Eve that we added chopped cucumber to. The coolness of the salad was a perfect offset to the spicy main dish.

IPA from one of my favorite brewers, New Belgium, completed the meal.



  1. This sounds delicious and you're right, I think okra is misunderstood because the only time I've ever had it has been in a southern-style restaurant (although my local Walmart does stock it). I'm so glad you specified Muir Glen tomatoes - this is one of the few brands that doesn't use BPA in their packaging ;)

    And thanks for sharing with Made with Love Mondays...

  2. Thanks. I suggest you try a few dishes with okra at home. Prepared correctly, it doesn't have to have that slimy texture that so many people seem to object to.


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