After struggling through the monsoon seasons last year, I set out to find a green(ish) veg crop for our rooftop garden that would not suffer from overwatering as our tomatoes and pumpkins did. Enter okra, which was until recently my least favorite vegetable.
I don’t know why I did not consider okra sooner because we actually eat it somewhat regularly. Popular back home in Southern cooking because of its ready availability in the lowlands and easy-growing throughout most of the region, I have seen it in our back garden most of my life. Even though I am not especially fond of the vegetable, I could not help but love the look of this red variety while perusing the seed rack at the grocery stor. The attractive flowers stand out even more against the deep maroon stems and vegetables. The color even holds up well when cooked and adds a pop to our curries. Beacuse the guys rather enjoy the vegetable and it is growing so well this season, I think I can learn to like it, too.
Growing okra is simple
As long as your beds or pots drain through the wet season, the plants will flourish. They do take a lot of sun and will grow about waist high, so plant okra where it will not shade other varieties. Okra is also very flexible in who it will grow with. Each of my three okra pots is planted out with different companions – a large wild amaranth, two basil varieties, rosemary, and Ceylon spinach. Next season we will try adding corn to the mix.
If you, too, are looking for a vegetable to take the monsoon punches of a tropical garden but new to okra (also called lady’s fingers), below are two recipes to get you started. Be sure to harvest your okra young (3-4 inshes) to avoid woody pods.
Southern (USA) Fried Okra
This use to be the only way I would tolerate okra:
Take 1 pound of small okra pods and cut them into 1/2 inch slices. Rinse well to remove the slimy film and allow to drain.
Heat some cooking oil in a cast iron or heavy-bottom skillet over medium high heat and in a bowl mix together 1/2 cup cornmeal, 1 cup flour, Cajun seasoning or cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper to taste.
Dip the okra in buttermilk or even a light egg wash and coat with the flour mixture.
Transfer in manageable batches to the skillet using a large slotted spoon or your hands to prevent extra flour from getting into the oil and burning
Allow to fry on one side until lightly browned, then begin to stir the okra until golden all over. Work quickly to avoid burning.
Remove the okra and allow any excess oil to drain off for a crispy coating. Enjoy hot with a meal or as poppers.
Sri-Lankan Bandakka Curry
from Akki’s Kitchen. See the full recipe.
In a small frypan heat the oil for deep frying and deep fry the okra in batches until they have a little colour. Drain well.
In a medium saucepan or pot place a little oil and add the onion and garlic. Fry until the onions and garlic until soft and aromatic.
To the same pot add all of the dried spices and fry for 2-3 minutes until the spices are lightly toasted.
Finally add the fried okra and mix thoroughly coating all the okra in the lovely toasted spices.
Once the okra is well coated add the coconut cream and a little water to cover the okra.
Let the curry simmer for 5 minutes until it thickens. Add salt to taste and serve warm with plenty of fluffy white rice.