As I thought about making dinner this evening, about having too many vegetables in my fridge, and about preparing something for my family while I am away meditating in the beauty of southern Indiana woods this weekend, I realized that I only had one option: head to the cookbookcase for one of my favorite cookbooks. Besides all that, I was just in the mood to do some creative cooking.
One might argue that I have far more cookbooks than one person needs, but I like to read them. My go-to cookbook, though, is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food. Second in line? Without question, it is Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food. I just love that someone can write a 800 page cookbook about “everything” and then create a sequel that is just as long — and just as good!
Okra gets such a bad rap. Slimy? It can be if it’s old or if it isn’t cooked correctly. It also has a rep for being fibrous. Stringy and slimy? Doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? But, okra is one of those foods that I think most people would like if they had it prepared correctly. And it isn’t difficult to do. Be sure to buy smaller pieces of okra, prepare it when it is fresh, and don’t overcook it.
I started with a recipe for Okra Stew with Roux (How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, page 324). From using Bittman’s cookbooks, I’ve learned about three things: technique, quality ingredients, and flavor profiles. When I was first learning to cook (not all that long ago!), understanding these gave me confidence to experiment with a base recipe. I didn’t have as much okra as the recipe called for, nor did I have enough tomatoes. But, I did have some green beans, having frozen several pounds bought at the farmers’ market earlier this summer. The recipe stated that any green bean was an acceptable substitute. I also had a zucchini that I thought was going to end up in a quick bread. It’s destiny was elsewhere. I needed one large onion, but only had a smallish one. I immediately targeted one of the monster-sized shallots in the bin to accompany the similar-sized onion.
First step was to lightly brown — golden is the actual color you want — the onion and shallot slices. After removing most of them from the pot, I began a roux. Roux used to terrify me. “Can you make a roux?” was something that Emeril used to say on his early Food TV program. That did nothing to convince me that I could. Roux, it turns out, is actually very easy.
For this recipe, 1/4 cup oil and 1/4 cup flour, cooked over low heat with nearly non-stop stirring for about 10 minutes gives you the perfect base for a vegetable stew. Eventually the flour and oil mixture begins to thicken and brown. Bittman advises that you stir until the mixture “darkens to the color of tea and becomes quite fragrant”.
It is a nutty scent, not a burnt odor. If you begin to burn the flour, turn down the heat! If you burn it, throw it out and try again; it’s only oil and flour. You could make this stew without it, but you’ll miss the depth of flavor and the thickening you get from the roux.
When the roux was ready, I added the okra to the pot and seared it.
After a few minutes, I added garlic. A few minutes after that, I added some cherry tomatoes and 2 cans of diced tomatoes in their juices (any tomatoes would do) and some oregano.
Then I deviated from Bittman’s recipe, adding the thawed green beans,
1 cup of Hoosier Momma Bloody Mary mix and about 1/2 cup of water.
Hoosier Momma’s is an Indianapolis company that I first became acquainted with at the local Farmers’ Market. Although they only sell in 7 states right now, they’re quickly expanding. If they aren’t in your area, you can buy online. Not only does this mix make a great Bloody Mary, but both the original and spicy versions are great to cook with. It is vegetarian and gluten-free, if those things are important to you. I certainly recommend this great mix. It’s not your father’s bloody mary mix!
Ingredients for original recipe:
6 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, thickly sliced
1 pound okra
2 T chopped garlic
4 cups chopped tomato
1 T minced fresh oregano
1 large zucchini, chopped
1 cup green beans
1 cup Hoosier Momma Bloody Mary Mix
* So you know — and so that I’m following governmental rules — I have received no compensation for use or mention of any products in this post.