Okraphobic No More

Okra is a funny little vegetable. It’s chock-full of textures, from the slight peach fuzz on its rigid green skin to the crunch of the seeds to its oft-mentioned sliminess. There tend to be two camps in the world of okra, and, yes, those tend to be split along the Mason-Dixon line, as okra is traditionally more of a southern delicacy. Certain you’re in the “no, thank you” camp? Don’t be so sure.

Sweet and Spicy Pickled Okra
In the bottom of each of 2 sterilized 1-pint Mason jars, place: ¼-inch slice of lemon, ¼-inch slice jalapeño and 1 peeled garlic clove. Then add to each jar: 2 teaspoons mustard seed, 1 teaspoon coriander, 1 teaspoon curry, ¼ teaspoon whole fennel seed, 1 allspice berry and 4 whole black peppercorns. Pack jars with whole, cleaned and dried okra pods, alternating stem up and stem down to get the pods to fit into the jars (about 12 pods per jar). In a nonreactive pot, bring 1 cup cider vinegar, 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 2 teaspoons granulated sugar to a boil until salt and sugar are dissolved. Pour hot liquid over the okra in the jars leaving about ½-inch of headspace. Let sit, uncovered, at room temperature, until the jars are just slightly warm to the touch. Screw on lids and refrigerate for a minimum of 24 hours before eating. Pickled okra will keep refrigerated for 2 to 3 weeks.

Okra Rellenos
Cut 4 ounces pepper jack cheese into matchsticks. Wash and dry 1 pound fresh okra. Cut a slit in each okra pod and push the seeds to the side. Place 1 to 3 cheese pieces into each okra pod and set aside. Combine 1 cup all-purpose flour and ¹∕³ cup corn muffin mix in a large bowl. Whisk together 1 egg, ½ cup lager-style beer, ½ cup buttermilk and 1 tablespoon honey. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring to combine. In a deep skillet, heat 4 to 6 cups vegetable oil over medium-high heat (The oil should be about 2- to 3-inches deep.). Dip stuffed okra in batter and carefully place in hot oil. Do not crowd the okra. As the okra browns, turn it with metal tongs. Once browned on all sides, remove and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.

Maque Choux
In a saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add ¼-pound diced andouille or other smoked, spicy sausage, and cook until brown, about 3 minutes. Remove sausage to paper towels and let drain. To the same skillet, add 2 cups fresh okra, cut into ¼-inch rings. Cook okra for 4 to 5 minutes. Add to skillet: ½ cup diced onion, ½ cup red bell pepper, 1 tablespoon minced jalapeño pepper, 2 cloves minced garlic and 1 tablespoon fresh thyme. Saute until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add 3 cups fresh corn (or defrosted frozen corn) and saute for another 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in ¼ cup heavy cream and cook 1 minute longer. Add the sausage. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.