A totally delightful way to prepare okra with cauliflower
Oh, we’re gluttons for punishment. Here we go again, posting a recipe that is sure to receive its fair share of hate, or at least, negative comments. Like spanakorizo, fried liver, and sour trahana, okra is a divisive vegetable. There tend to be two types of people in the okra world; those who love it, and those who believe that those who love it must suffer from a taste disorder (called ageusia if you want to be fancy). But that’s a little simplistic.
One of the most common reasons that people site for hating okra is the slime factor. Okra are actually pods with a somewhat fuzzy exterior; on the inside you will find small seeds and a mucilaginous juice (that’s a polite way of saying slime). Doesn’t that description make you want to stop reading this post and run out to buy some okra!? Although potentially gross, this slime actually serves a purpose. It acts as a wonderful thickening agent, which is why okra are so popular in Caribbean stews and gumbos and in Indian curries. But this is a Greek cooking blog, and the last time we checked, there aren’t too many yiayia’s (γιαγιας) cooking these types of meals in their kitchen.
Okra is a plant that loves the heat and grows especially well in warm climates. It is used widely in Indian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and American southern cooking, and of course, in Greek cooking. It is packed with fiber, vitamin C and folate, making this unique vegetable one which you should try to learn and love. And if you’re worried about the slime, have no fear. This recipe of okra with cauliflower is pretty much, slime-free!
Although you may be lucky and have okra growing in your garden, you will likely be purchasing them at the market. Okra come in various shapes and sizes; try to select ones which are similar in size and ideally about the length of your index finger. The longer the okra, the more bitter and tough they tend to be. As well, when shopping for okra, look for ones which are bright green, with few areas of discolouration or brown spots. Select each okra individually if you can (of course you can…just take the time to do it). The ideal okra will be firm but not hard; if they are too hard they are likely old.
Before you do anything with your okra, you have to prepare them. To do so you need to cut off any tough areas, including the very tip and the stem. Regarding the tip, you really only want to cut off the very end; any area that is brown. This should not be a big piece at all. The stem end is a little more tricky because the natural shape of okra is that the stem portion is coned. As such, you need to keep your knife at an angle as you carefully move it around the okra, cutting off what you don’t want, but being careful not to expose the inner seeds. Don’t worry if you mess up a few; remember that perfection is an unattainable state and use them anyways.
As you will read in the recipe, our parents have a two-step method for getting rid of the slime (hooray!). First, they soak the okra in water and red wine vinegar, and then they dry roast them. This technique successfully eliminates the gross factor, as well as adding a depth of flavour to the okra.
Our parents use their homemade tomato sauce when preparing this meal. If you have made their sauce, or your own, use it as well. Otherwise, a good quality canned or jarred tomato sauce will work as well.
By combining the okra with the cauliflower you end up with a pretty substantial vegetarian meal. We love to eat these vegetables with a nice hunk of fresh bread, some feta, and a few olives. Totally delicious.
Mia Kouppa:Okra with cauliflower
- 750 grams okra (approximately 80 okra)
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 small or 1/2 large cauliflower
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 1/4 cup tomato sauce
- 1/4 cup water
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Prepare your okra by cutting off the tip and the top part where the stem is. You must do this carefully in order not to expose the inner seeds. When cutting off the stem, keep your knife at an angle; do not cut straight across. (You can refer to the pictures above to help guide you, as well as the helpful hints).
- Wash your okra twice with clean running water. Then, place your okra in a bowl, cover them with water and add the red wine vinegar. Stir them around and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drain your okra (do not rinse them) and lay them in a single layer on the parchment paper. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt.
- Place the okra in the bottom rack of your oven and roast for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare your cauliflower by cutting it into chunks. Rinse well and place the cauliflower in a bowl. Pour the juice of half a lemon and sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt over the cauliflower and toss to coat.
- Take a 9 x 11 inch roasting pan and place your cauliflower in one end of the pan. You will have liquid in the bottom of your bowl; that is the lemon juice and water which may have remained on the cauliflower when you rinsed it. Add this liquid to the pan as well.
- When your okra have roasted for 15 minutes, transfer them to the other end of the roasting pan, next to the cauliflower. Keep your oven on at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Slice the onion and garlic cloves into slivers. In a small frying pan, add the olive oil and fry the onion and garlic over medium heat for approximately 5 minutes. Stir constantly and be careful not to burn the garlic. Remove from the heat when the onion has turned soft and is just beginning to caramelize (turn brown).
- Pour the onion, garlic and the olive oil evenly over the cauliflower and okra. Then, pour the tomato sauce and water into the pan as well, evenly over the vegetables.
- Sprinkle the ground cinnamon over the cauliflower, and the ground pepper over both the cauliflower and the okra.
- Bake on the lower rack of your oven, uncovered, for 50 minutes. Enjoy.