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If ever a vegetable needed a letter of introduction to get in the kitchen door of someone unfamiliar with it–that vegetable is okra. In appearance its pod is unprepossessing: the green exterior is…furry. Cut a pod open, and a clear, sticky glue seeps out. In its raw state, okra isn’t overly accessible.
For those who are strangers to this curious vegetable, here is a letter of introduction in recipe form. Cooked with tomatoes, chilies and bacon, okra becomes easy to like. It is a version of the vegetable that has more than an even chance of meeting the purely subjective criteria: ‘Would this be good eaten all alone with a bowl of rice for supper?’ As part of a more diverse meal it is no boring space filler or a vegetable afterthought for health’s sake.
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- 6 thin slices of Bacon
- 2 pounds of small fresh Okra, cut in 1/4-inch rounds
- 1 large Yellow Onion, chopped, or about 1 cup of chopped Yellow Onion
- 1 teaspoon of Salt, or more if, after tasting the finished dish you think it could use it
- 1 teaspoon of dried Oregano
- 5 ripe Tomatoes, peeled and chopped: if the tomatoes aren’t very flavorful, use instead 4 ripe Tomatoes and 2 canned, chopped Plum Tomatoes
- 1 or 2 whole, dried Chile de árbol Peppers, according to your liking for heat–a single Chile will not result in an exceedingly spicy dish
- Optional Suggested Garnish: 8 dried Chile de árbol Peppers–1 for each serving
- a wide, heavy-bottomed Pan
1. Fry the bacon in the pan over medium heat until it is crisp and golden. Drain it on paper towels, crumble it up and set it aside. Do not wash out the pan. The bacon fat is used in the next step. (Note: If you are using thin-sliced European Breakfast Bacon, you may need to add a couple of Tablespoons of vegetable oil to the pan at this point–sunflower, for example–since this type of bacon renders very little fat. American bacon usually renders quite a bit of fat. Pour off all but 3 or 4 Tablespoons of it before continuing with the recipe.)
2. Heat the bacon fat in the skillet over medium heat and add the okra, onion, salt and oregano. Sauté everything, stirring now and then, for about 10 minutes.
3. Add the chopped tomatoes and the dried chili pepper(s).
4. Raise the heat and cook the mixture, stirring, until it bubbles vigorously. Then lower the heat and simmer the vegetables for about 15 – 20 minutes, or until the okra and tomatoes are soft. Taste and salt a little more–or not. (The vegetables may be made up to this point a day in advance, refrigerated and reheated before serving. The crumbled bacon should be covered and refrigerated as well, and sprinkled on the okra once it is on plates.)
5. To serve: Remove the chilies, divide the vegetables among plates and sprinkle crumbled bacon over each serving. You might want to place a dried chili on each serving, too. It looks nice–but if you are also serving the Crab-Stuffed Sole and decorate each fish with a pickled red pepper, the chili would be over-kill.
A Note: Okra, Tomatoes, Chilies and Bacon is served with Crab-Stuffed Sole with Green Onion Tabasco Sauce for the Dinner Menu: A Lowcountry Dinner. It is adapted from James Villas’ recipe for Okra with Tomatoes and Chilies in his The Town & Country Cookbook (1985).
© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011-2012