Friday, August 23, 2013

This Week at the South Durham Farmers' Market

This Week 

  • 8 AM - Noon at Greenwood Commons, 5410 HWY 55 Durham, NC 27713
  • Music: Ninian Beall & Gayle Brown performing traditional bluegrass
  • Education: Kids' Craft Station 
  • At the Market: Figs, Peppers, Eggplant, apples, beans, corn, okra, tomatoes, squash, melons and more!
Southern Belle of a Veggie

Growing up in Yankee territory didn’t afford me many opportunities (or any) to try okra. And it wasn’t until after living in North Carolina for three years, that I had my first taste. Last summer, around this time, I was at a friend’s house being served a generous feast of summer vegetables, and they broke open a jar of home-pickled okra pods harvested from Four Leaf Farm. My first bite had a cool, firm crunch that unleashed flavors of coriander and garlic and piquant vinegar. I was impressed.

Okra isn’t a common vegetable in the North because the plant generally prefers hot, semi-tropical climates. The pod that we eat is actually the fruit that forms from the okra blossom, which is edible as well. The pods normally grow only 2-3 days before our farmers harvest them for market. Okra is a “cut-and-come-again” vegetable, so you can pick the persistent vegetable several times a season.

The pod is a member of the Mallow family and among its cousins are other heat-lovers like cotton, hibiscus and marshmallow. Members of the Mallow family are typically well-endowed with an unfortunate sounding substance called mucilage. This substance works magic in the marshmallow confection, but can make cooked okra slimy and be a deterrent for some folks; however, the goo is easily reduced by cooking okra with acidic ingredients like vinegar, tomatoes, or citrus fruit.

If only I had known this before the second time I had okra. My husband and I had decided to try cooking a traditional southern dish, so we purchased a bag of frozen okra for an ill-fated pot of gumbo. The roux was bland and unctuous, a feature on which the okra double-downed. Fortunately, this was a mere hiccup in our experiences with okra, and we have had many delightful preparations since.

Once you know how to prepare it, okra is extremely versatile. You can batter and fry it, grill it, pickle it, roast it, add it to soup, sauté it, and stuff it. Plus, just like the rabbit I wrote about last week, it is good for you. This tiny pod has outsized amounts of fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants.

Many of our farmers will be bringing baskets full of bright, tender okra pods to market, including a striking burgundy variety. If you cook it, the burgundy okra will turn to green, but if you pickle it, you will have a lovely pink jar of okra. If you need more ideas for preparing this southern belle of a veggie, check out our recipes on pinterest!

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