Swap-Box Hero: Okra Edition

Swapbox hero

I might’ve thought we were close enough to the Mason-Dixon line for our CSA picker-uppers to consider okra a treat, but based on the end-of-night swap-box contents for the past two weeks, it’s vegetabilis non grata in these parts 

Truth be told, one of those bags last week was mine: I traded in a pound of okra for three golden beets. But I did find a home for the four orphaned packets; my pal, Stephen – a NOLA guy – was thrilled to have as much as I could get him.

This week, though, I decided to take care of a bunch of the leftovers myself.

Stephen was gracious enough to share his gumbo secrets with me a few years ago, and I make a batch or two every winter. Thanks to the swap box, I’m ready for January, with four half-pound VacMaster bags tucked into the freezer.

Put it Up

Blanch. Shock. Freeze. No mystery, really.

Online, I found conflicting advice about whether it’s better to freeze okra whole or cut. I opted for whole, since I’ve had better luck (i.e., less slime) cooking it that way. Plus, I figured I can always chop it up later if the recipe warrants.

1. Wash the okra pods and separate them into like-sized bunches.

2. Trim the top stems off the pods, but not so far down as to expose the seeds and the inner cells—these are what release the “goo” (the same mucilage that’s in aloe)—when exposed to heat.

Trimmed okra
To avoid the dreaded okra slime, trim without exposing the seeds, as in the pod on the right.

3. Working in batches, blanch the smaller pods for 3 minutes (mediums for 4 minutes, really big ones for 5 minutes).

4. Remove to an ice bath for the same amount of time you cooked them for.

5. Drain thoroughly and let dry.

6. Pack into freezer or vacuum-seal bags. Don’t forget to label.

Note: If you’re likely to be using smaller amounts (vs. the whole bag at once), it’s worth it to take the extra step of freezing the pods on a sheet pan first, before you pack them up. They’ll be much easier to separate when you need them.

Ate it Up

Determined to actually cook and enjoy fresh okra, I also improvised a delicious stew, riffing on a recipe I’d seen in Food and Wine awhile back. I took the base there and, since it’s August, after all, added in fresh tomatoes and peaches. Because in August, ‘most everything I eat has a dose of fresh tomatoes and peaches.

August chicken-okra stew
Chicken, okra, tomatoes, peaches, lemongrass, ginger, jalapeño: A stew in search of a name.

A crazy mix of cultural references, it’s got a little Thai and a little Latin American going on. It won’t win any pretty contests, but it sure was good. I have no idea what to call it, though, so if you’ve got a suggestion, let me know.

August Chicken-Okra Stew
  • 4 bone-in chicken thighs
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano, minced
  • 2-3 stalks of lemongrass, trimmed and peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces, slightly smashed
  • 1-1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 small hot pepper, sliced thinly (I used a jalapeño, seeds removed)
  • 1 tsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 c chicken stock (I used low-sodium)
  • 1 c unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2/3 pound small- to medium-sized okra, washed, trimmed, and dried
  • 2 small tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 medium peach, peeled and sliced

1. Rinse and pat dry the chicken pieces. Place them in a shallow dish and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the oregano on top, cover, and refrigerate for an hour or two.

2. Over a medium-high flame, heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan (I used an enameled, cast-iron Dutch oven). Brown the chicken (4-5 minutes per side). Remove chicken to a high-sided plate or shallow bowl (it will release some juices).

3. Reduce heat to low. Sauté onion, ginger, garlic, and pepper until soft and fragrant (4-5 minutes). Add the flour and incorporate it fully. Whisk in the liquids, add the lemongrass, and return the chicken and its juices to the pot.

4. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, basting any chicken uncovered by the liquid (or turning the pieces over periodically).

5. Meantime, quick-cook the okra for 2-3 minutes in a pot of salted, boiling water. Rinse and drain well.

6. Add the okra, tomatoes, and peaches to the pot, and simmer for another 5 minutes.

I served the stew straight up—it was nice and thick—but I suspect it’d also be pretty great over brown rice.

Drank it Up
Kuhn "Jacobus" 2012
Kühn’s trocken (dry) Riesling is one of my favorite summer wines, pairing with everything from grilled fish to Asian food to salads to nothing at all.

With hints of lemongrass and keffir lime—plus zingy acidity—Peter Jakob Kühn’s biodynamically farmed “Jacobus” Rheingau Riesling trocken 2012 was a natural match for the rich, slightly sweet-hot stew.

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