Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Smothered Okra

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.

6 comments:

De in D.C. said...

Ahh, I'm jealous. Okra is my favorite vegetable (on a long list of favorite). However, I've stopped frequenting the farmer's market and have been relying solely on our CSA bag and items in my garden. Sadly, our CSA's okra is just as far from producing as mine is.

Regarding the slime, yeah, it's the water that does it. My favorite way to prepare it is to sautée an onion in a pan with a fair bit of oil, throw in the okra and let it turn bright green and begin to brown slightly, then cover the mess with some curry powder (I blend mine to what I like, but I suppose someone could use a store bought mix). This results in none of the noxious slime that turns so many people off. The one time I added a splash of white wine to deglaze the spices that had stuck to the pan, I ended up with a slimy mess.

Carol said...

I really am writing in to comment on what you said about factoring in the cost of gas to your farmer's market journey: please think about taking public transportation or even riding a bike or walking. I know it's not always most convenient - but we are so used to that convenience that we forget how many get around in other countries is in these far less gas-dependent ways. I haven't had a car for 4 years, and manage just fine with my own two feet (aided by a wonderful cart on wheels), buses, and the occasional taxi ride. Of course this is not possible everywhere - but it is in MANY areas. Furthermore, if we actually were to use the buses, etc, that part of our infrastructure might be greatly improved with additional stops and better tax support. The bus: it's not just for kids and poor people.

Ed Bruske said...

De, you're the second person I've heard propounding the water/slime theory. I don't know if I'm convinced. Okra is supposed to help thicken gumbo, but I haven't noticed all that much thickening in my okra gumbos. The only time I had a real problem with okra slime was following a recipe for raw okra in a salad. It was terrible, inedible, but I don't remember any water being involved.

Carol, those are great points you make. Unfortunately, It would take me the better part of the day getting to the Chevy Chase farmers market using public transportation. Bicycle would be more doable. I am still smarting from someone stealing my bicycle off my front porch. Still, I'm not sure I would bicycle 10 miles round trip just for a few items from one particular farmers market. I would probably just skip that market altogether and walk to one of the markets that closer. That's my usual MO. But what you say drives home the point I was hinting at: The drawbacks of burning fossil fuels--cost of gas, harm to the environment--is going to have an impact on people's shopping habits and it's going to make farm produce less accessible to some people. It's also going to hurt the farmers, who have to drive their trucks long distances to get to all these various farmers markets. Something to ponder....

Katie said...

I think more people are thinking about how much they drive in terms of dollars and cents. We walked a mile to our local ice cream store last night, and saw my neighbor drive to and from the grocery store at the same time. We enjoyed our walk, talked about our life's plans, and had a leisurely night. It was wonderful.

I love okra - this recipe sounds delish! I can't wait to make okra pickles...

Charlotte said...

We're seeing a lot of bikes in our small town this summer for exactly those short trips. The "big" grocery store is out by the interstate exchange -- about 2 miles from Main Street/center of town. Luckily there is a good sidewalk/bike path all the way out there, and I'm seeing a lot more folks using the kiddie trailer for groceries. (THere are also a lot of folks who have pulled out their ATVs, which I find kind of amusing).
I'm jealous of your farmers markets though -- imagine -- a choice of farmer's markets? We have one, on Wednesday evenings and a new one on Friday mornings that is only for food (no crafts) -- problem is, our season is about a month slow thanks to a very cold spring so there's not much to buy yet. Sigh.

Tiffany said...

First of all, great blog! And, thank you for the okra recipe. I have never cooked it before and I look forward to trying this out.
Second, gas prices are definitely a factor for many of us. I do feel lucky to have a relatively good public transportation network here. Working downtown, I'm able to stop on my Metro route home at markets like the Wednesday Foggy Bottom Market. Also, as Charlotte points out, we are lucky to have such a large choice of markets in this area- it's incredible if you think about it. There is at least one market open somewhere in DC every day of the week, except Monday.
Finally, I wonder if the high cost of transporting food will also impact what our grocery stores carry? It would be nice to think that maybe grocery stores would start thinking about buying more from the local region, rather than shipping things cross-country when they're in season here. Sigh.