Okra: people either love it or hate it. But okra and I have a more complicated relationship. My head tells me that I don’t like okra—I find it slimy and strange. But if you present me with a plate of fried okra or a jar of pickled okra, I’ll eat it—happily and greedily.
I come late to okra, which belies my Southern heritage, I know. I only started eating fried okra a few years ago (though have since made up for much lost time) and pickled okra is an even more recent addition to my table.
A Texan friend had called me, thrilled that she had found “Talk O’ Texas” brand of pickled okra at a New York grocery store. I must have not expressed the appropriate amount of enthusiasm for her discovery because she said, “What’s wrong, don’t you like okra pickles?”
I admitted that I had never even tried them before, I was so adamantly against the vegetable. She chided me and told me that my attitude needed to change as I was missing out on a very good thing.
It wasn’t until last October that I finally took the okra-pickle plunge. I was at the annual Southern Foodways Symposium in Oxford, Mississippi and during a gumbo luncheon, jars of Tabasco spicy pickled okra were offered as gifts. None of my table mates wanted their jars and since I hate to see good food go to waste, I ended up with several jars of the pickles.
That night, after enjoying myself a bit too much, I ended up in my motel room hungry. Having only the pickles on hand, I decided that they would have to suffice. But surprisingly, I found them more than adequate—I actually enjoyed eating them and was thankful that I had more than one jar as I learned that I my friend was correct—pickled okra is indeed a very good thing.
Okra pickles are especially refreshing right now. Cold and crisp, I like to toss them into salads, dip them in hummus or use as a garnish in a glass of vegetable juice. There are still slight texture issues—yes, that’s a slight hint of softness in the center of each pod—but I find that the tang of the vinegar and fire of the chiles used in the brine make up for what I normally find unappealing.
And if you see red okra, definitely grab some. It’s a bit drier than the green okra and makes for an especially fine pickle—plus it turns the brine a rosy shade.
I’m not going to chide you if you don’t like okra—I realize opinions on it are heated. But no matter how you feel, do yourself a favor and at least try these spicy okra pickles. Who knows, you might even change your mind.
Spicy pickled okra
2 pounds okra, stems trimmed
8 garlic cloves
1 cup fresh dill
4 serrano chiles, stem removed 4
2 teaspoons chile flakes
2 teaspoons cumin seed
4 teaspoons salt
3 cups apple cider vinegar
Evenly divide between four sterilized pint-sized jars the okra, dill, Serrano chiles and garlic cloves.
Bring the vinegar and spices to a boil and pour into the jars. Fill up the rest of the jar with water.
Let cool (about half an hour) and then cover and refrigerate.
Will be ready in a day and will keep in the refrigerator for a few months, though they probably won't last that long.
Note: If you live in New York, I bought my red okra from Yuno Farms, which is at different Greenmarkets throughout the week: Union Square on Mondays; Dag Hammarskjold on Wednesdays, and West Village on Saturdays.
Speaking of farmers markets, Serious Eats has produced a beautiful short film about small farmer Rick Bishop of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, which includes short interviews with people such as chefs Dan Barber, Alex Guarneschell and Tom Valenti, and bloggers such as Cathy Erway and myself talking about why we love the farmers market.