The Okra Infiltration

Okra has made its foray into our culinary repertoire. I was suspect at first but it won me over.

After bringing some home about a month ago to experiment and see if we could use it to thicken soups and stews instead of corn starch, we quickly found it worked wonderfully and we hoped we could stock up for the winter. Thankfully, okra grows like mad and my friend with the 2 acre garden is happy to share with others. (Thanks Phyllis!) She and I picked for a little over an hour a couple of weeks ago and I brought home this armload.

It took me about an hour to wash it all, and all our counter space to lay it out to dry. I was worn out from all the picking and washing that day!

Here’s another look at half of the haul a day or two later just before blanching. It took two days and 1-2 hours each day to cut, blanch, cool, bag, seal, and label all the okra. But it’s totally worth it.

The process for blanching is pretty simple. Essentially boil your vegetable for a short period, cool it in an ice bath, and freeze.

However, I have found that with okra, folks tend to tackle it many, different, ways, many choosing to blanch it whole. We like to cut it into pieces which helps remove some of the “slime” that can be both a blessing or a curse. It’s the slime that helps our dishes thicken but I don’t want too much slime. Truly, I don’t really want to notice it at all. So this is our method which may not be traditional but seems to be working just fine for us.

We cut off the ends and cut the okra into small pieces, about 1/4 inch thick. Then we place the okra in boiling water and boil for a few minutes. Don likes to put a little lemon in the water and he doesn’t time how long he boils them. I asked how he knows they are done (because I’m all about following recipes exactly and when I blanched some eggplant recently I surely timed how long I boiled.) He says you can tell it’s done because the color changes slightly and they float differently. Ok. (I guess it’s kind of like when “meat tells you it’s ready to be turned on the grill.” Something I frequently hear on The Food Network and from Don.)

After boiling, the okra needs to cool before bagging and freezing. Again, when I blanched the eggplant recently, I cooled it in an ice bath, per instructions I’d read online. Don just dumped the okra into the biggest strainer we had and let it cool as it was. It took 30-45 minutes to cool so much at once and then we bagged and sealed. I don’t know if it was a matter of convenience or whether Don just forgot the ice bath part. But like I said, it doesn’t seem to have caused any problems.

In the end, our hard work resulted in 16 packages of okra (about 1 cup in each package) weighing just under 1/2 lb each – that’s about 7 lbs of okra! Oh my!

We still had about 4 packages left from our previous harvest so I’m thinking we might have enough to get through the winter now. LOL

TIP:  The other trick for reducing the slime factor is to let your dish – soup/stew/chili – cook long and slow, allowing the okra to break down considerably; most easily done with a crock pot.

When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree; when drinking water, remember who dug the well.
~ Vietnamese proverb

Eggplant, Peppers, and Squash, Oh MY!

Last week we helped pick vegetables from a friend’s 2 acre garden. We spent about a little over an hour picking long rows of squash and cucumbers, then a bit of eggplant and peppers. We were sent home with bags of all these wonderful veggies, and more.

Okra, eggplant, squash, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, and cantaloupe.

I was a bit overwhelmed by it all but we managed to devise a few ways to stretch and store it.

I made pico, enough to fill two quart size mason jars. It is so good. I could almost sit and eat it all day.

I made a small batch of spicy, roasted red pepper tomato sauce. I varied the recipe a bit, adding a little red wine, jalapenos, chili garlic paste instead of regular garlic, a little onion powder, parsley and basil. Using my previous post as a base for how to roast the tomatoes you can pretty much add whatever spices or flavors you want in your sauce. I’m really pleased with how the sauces are coming out. I made another huge batch a couple of weeks ago that is in the freezer as well.

Don sliced the okra in 1/4 inch thick pieces, blanched it, and froze it in neat one-cup servings for easy use. He plans to try using it as a thickening agent instead of corn starch in future dishes.

I filled 9 quart size mason jars with squash, sweet onion, cucumbers, and the peppers (banana peppers, jalapeno, and little red peppers of some sort) and pickled them with our sweet-spicy pickle recipe. Makes for great party food or just everyday snacking.

I also made some spicy cucumber salad. Mmm…

We saved a few tomatoes for everyday use, a few squash for mashed squash, and peppers for spicing up dishes. And we still have all the eggplant. We’ve been meaning to grill some as a side dish but our dinners have just not been shaping up in that direction. Hopefully it will keep for a bit so we can enjoy it too.

What a blessing. Thank you Phyllis for sharing your garden with us – and with Abraham’s Tent, a local soup kitchen.

When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree; when drinking water, remember who dug the well.
~ Vietnamese proverb