Monday, June 25, 2012

Okra Two Ways

I was without my children last weekend and tonight so have been free to eat any foods I want. (I eat pretty much anything, unlike the boys in my life.) And what I wanted to eat was fresh okra. The inspiration came in Hoffer's, the mom-and-pop grocery store/washateria/gas station in Hallettsville on Alt. Highway 90.


I was in town last weekend for another family reunion (Morkovsky this time). I always stop at Hoffer's to see what local produce they have and Saturday was a banner day.... okra, cucumbers, green onions, tomatoes, banana peppers, zucchini, eggplant. The okra was so green, so plump-looking that it called to me. The tomatoes so red, so meaty. And what a beautiful combination they'd make with the orange banana peppers. Reunion spreads always need more vegetables, so even though I didn't have a recipe, I decided to take okra and tomatoes. Take THAT Austin Downtown Farmer's Market... I got a pound of okra for $1.35, 4 firm, gorgeous banana peppers for about .75, scallions for .95 and 2 pounds of the most flavorful tomatoes for about $2.25, all sold to Hoffer's by people who live and garden within a 5 mile radius.



I stayed at my grandmother's for the weekend. She passed away in January, but the family still has her house and we have gathered there for various reasons in different combinations since she went into a nursing home several years ago. With 5 bedrooms and a huge, open family-friendly kitchen, it's like a private B&B where we do the cooking.

This trip I got to enjoy the company of my Aunts Jane and Maggie and my Uncle George, who also all stayed at the house. Uncle George was the food guru Sunday morning, showing up with 4 sausage biscuits from McDonald's to which he added eggs he fried himself.  (They wanted a dollar each to add an egg to a sandwich and he could buy a whole dozen eggs for $1.29 at Hoffer's... makes total sense.) He made sure the apple strudel in the oven was taken out before it got too brown. He made cole slaw to take to the reunion. He made sure the potatoes I was boiling for my Dad didn't get too soft. And he oversaw my contribution to the reunion, too.


Uncle George shared with me what things would have been growing in the backyard garden of the house when he was a kid.... green beans, yellow squash, tomatoes, okra, watermelons. After consultation about how my grandmother would have made this dish (she called it okra gumbo) we collaborated on the following recipe...

Okra and Tomatoes
Dawn Orsak and George Kallus 
1/2 stick of butter
1 lb. fresh okra, sliced, discarding the tops
4 medium-large ripe tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 large scallions, chopped
salt and pepper to taste 
Melt the butter in a deep skillet with a lid over medium heat. Saute the onions and garlic in the butter until they start to soften. Add the okra and saute a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, stir it all together, put the lid on and turn the heat down to low. Stir every once and a while. When the tomatoes have broken down and made some juice and the okra is tender, add salt and pepper to taste and simmer a little longer so all the flavors meld together.
* Many recipes call for adding a little sugar to this dish (like a teaspoon), which I'll try next time. As you can see below, no one who ate it at the reunion seemed to mind it not being in my version. Uncle George said my grandmother would also sometimes add a can of corn "to stretch it." (She had 8 children.)

A second pound of okra came home with me so that I could test another cooking method. Six out of the first 8 Texas Czech community cookbooks I looked in confirmed that (besides frying) cooking okra with tomatoes is the preferred method (with or without green peppers, bacon, chili powder, corn.) But I also found the recipe below for Okra Patties.
Okra Patties
Dorothy Olsovsky, Society No. 44 Moravia
from Sharing Our Best: K.J.Z.T. Centennial Book of Recipes, 1994 
1 lb. chopped okra
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup water
1 egg
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cornmeal 
Finely chop the okra and the onions. Mix well with salt, pepper, water and egg. Mix the flour, baking powder and cornmeal. Add to previous mixture. Drop by spoonfuls in hot fat or oil and brown well over medium heat. Drain on paper towels. Yields 10 patties.
Crispy outside, squishy inside with a subdued okra flavor. The recipe above is typed straight from the cookbook, but I would increase the salt to a teaspoon. And I think of fried things as being served with some kind of sauce or dip... french fries and ketchup, salmon patties and tartar sauce, fried mushrooms and ranch dressing, fried mozzarella and marinara, fried shrimp and, well, shrimp sauce.

The okra recipe didn't recommend eating the patties with anything. I tried ketchup... not very interesting. Then I tried Louisiana hot sauce - a natural with the Southern flavors of okra and cornmeal. It was the perfect accompaniment for a girl who loves spicy foods. In a previous blog post I ruminated on Texas-Czech gravies... garlic, dill, tomato, etc. Perhaps one of those with Okra Patties? Hhhmmmmm.


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