Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Skillet Okra Gumbo

I'm really starting to think I was born in the wrong part of the country. I'm just in love with my copy of The Savannah Cookbook.  Southern food, in general, just seems to make me happy.

When my husband and I went to Georgia during spring break, I ate okra for the first time.  It happened to be fried and had this really tangy mustard sauce to dip it in, but I enjoyed it, much to my own surprise.  Okra isn't particularly prevalent in my corner of the U.S., but this summer, one of the vendors at our local farmer's market had some for sale.

It was adorable and delightful, and I made this delicious skillet okra gumbo with it.

Now, you can buy okra at the grocery store, but it's not always a given and probably isn't nearly as good as what you'd buy at the farmer's market (or anywhere in the South, for that matter).  But I would imagine that, if you're like me, you're willing to do with what you have available.

Served over steamed rice, this recipe is enough to serve as a main course for up to six people.  It can also be used as a side dish without the rice, or if you need to stretch it over more than six plates.

Start by scalding, peeling, and seeding two pounds of ripe tomatoes and dice them.  If you're stuck using canned tomatoes, four cans will suffice.  Rise the okra under cold water and rub the fuzz off each pod.  I found I had to use a (new) plastic scouring sponge to do the job well.  But from what I've read, if the okra is young and tender, this step isn't quite as imperative.  Anyway, trim the caps off the de-fuzzed pods; leave them whole if they're two inches long or less, otherwise cut them into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Cook four slices of thick-cut bacon in a deep-sided heavy skillet until crispy over medium heat, then set aside.  Spoon off the bacon fat except for two tablespoons worth, and saute one medium white onion that has been chopped.  Toss until golden, about five minutes.  Then add two or three minced cloves of garlic and toss with the onions for about 30 seconds or so.

Okay, admittedly, I threw the garlic in with the onions, and it turned out just fine.

Next, add the okra to the skillet and saute, stirring constantly, until the pods are just barely tender.

Add the tomatoes with their juices and raise the heat to medium high.  Bring it to a full boil.  I had to add about a half cup of chicken broth to mine, because my tomatoes were disappointingly not juicy.  Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, season with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste.  Simmer until the okra is very tender and the juices are thick, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Crumble the bacon over the top and stir it into the gumbo (or have it available on the side for people to add as they prefer).

Serve it up hot over steamed white rice, and pretend you're deep in the heart of Dixie.

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