Our farmer friend Brett sends out occasional notices about what he'll be displaying at the Saturday farmers market. This week it was okra, which immediately got my attention. Hard to believe we are already harvesting okra (my own plants aren't nearly there yet). So I was primed to rush there and get some.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the farmers market this week. I started calculating how much gas I would be using to get there. The market where Brett sets up shop is not any of the ones within walking distance of our house here in the District of Columbia. It's five miles away in Chevy Chase D.C., almost in Maryland. In fact, the Chevy Chase farmers market is not far from the drop-off point where we pick up the food boxes Brett leaves for our winter CSAs.
With gasoline now above $4 per gallon (I know, for much of the world, especially in Europe, this seems laughably cheap--we don't tax gas nearly as much as they do) five miles isn't anything to take lightly anymore. It dawned on me a couple of weeks ago when I ran to the market for some of Brett's free-range eggs that when I included the cost of a two-way trip, one dozen eggs cost me an extra $2. Make that $6 a dozen instead of $4. And that's in a 1997 Toyota Corola that still gets 21 miles to the gallon in the city.
So before I left the house on this particular venture, I sat down and thought, What would my wife have me do? The answer was obvious. A wee bit of okra could not justify driving 10 miles. I made a list, which included a hefty bunch of okra and two dozen eggs. The total came to $14 ($8 for the eggs, $6 for two overflowing pints of okra), plus $2 for gas. Not exactly cheap. But a whole lot more from the farmers market I do not really need, since we are growing so much in our own kitchen garden.
I wonder how many other people now are starting to make similar calculations and wondering whether the trip to their favorite farmers market for a few peaches, or a couple of onions and green beans, or that chocolate croissant, is still worth it. Or maybe they're making the trip and enlarging their purchases?
Anyway, I was happy to have the fresh okra because sister Linda and her oenophile husband Tom were coming to dinner for steaks. For an hors d'oeuvre, we had bruschetta smothered with favas and peas from my visit to One Straw Farm. Then I grilled a couple of porterhouse steaks and served the smothered okra on the side, while Tom poured a couple of different Bordeaux.
This is a very easy dish that delivers big flavor with hardly any seasoning. Slice a Vidalia onion thinly and saute it in extra-virgin olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet along with a green bell pepper cut into medium dice. When the vegetables are soft, add a quart of okra, trimmed and sliced on an angle into half-inch pieces. Then add the kernels sliced from two ears of white corn, plus the contents of a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and simmer until the okra is tender. If the mix looks dry, just add a little water.
Some people complain about okra being slimy. I have never experienced this problem. Maybe they are breeding the sliminess out of okra. I heard one person recently propose that okra only gets slimy when it has been dampened with water. I find this hard to believe. But I could be totally wrong. So keep your okra away from water--until you cook it.