That hairy seed-pod we all know and love

I was in Memphis last week for the Tortoise concert (they kicked ass, thanks for asking) and George* and I started off with dinner at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Saigon. Before our food came out I saw one of the staff bring out an enormous steaming platter of okra for a few staffers and oldtimers to snack on. I’d never seen okra prepared this way — it had to have been barely cooked, because it was bright green and not gray and saggy, the way okra will be when it’s overcooked.

I may have to try it lightly steamed some time, because I have to admit I likes my okra. There was a diner near Oxford (MS) that did great business because of the cook’s masterful way with fried okra; when she left Ruth & Jimmie’s and went to cook at Ray’s Truck Stop, Ray’s business boomed and Ruth & Jimmie’s went out of business within a year. My other fave is pickled okra, seasoned with dill, garlic and hot chilies — fantastic.

One method I used to see in old Southern grandmothers’ kitchens was okra boiled whole in a pot of blackeyed peas — a good way to use up a few pods if you didn’t have enough for a mess of fried. Simmering them for a long time with the peas produces the slimy texture that a lot of okra-haters associate with the vegetable. One sure way to get kids to hate okra is to feed ’em that slimy mess — and to tell ’em just to put it in their mouth and swallow, like an oyster. Once it starts sliding, you don’t even have to chew. No surprise that you don’t see it prepared this way much anymore — and it’s why I didn’t really enjoy okra until I rediscovered it as an adult.

*Yes, this would be George Takaeda of L’Affaire Morimoto.