Okra is delicious and doesn’t have to be slimy! We had a whole summer of okra abundance, cooking it up at least twice a week in different guises. Harris always plants okra, but until we got married, I never cooked or ate much of this vegetable. Like most okra-shy people, even the idea of slime was off-putting, but the challenge didn’t deter me. With so many pods flourishing in the garden, we didn’t want waste any. And who doesn’t think the flower is gorgeous? Related to hibiscus, most of this year’s okra is red that turns green when it’s cooked.
The flavor of okra is mild with a taste that reminds me of asparagus. If you object to the gooey texture like I do, it is easily eliminated by cooking the sliced pods in ghee, lard or coconut oil without any liquid. Then it can be added to whatever recipe you like: goo-be-gone! You can pull off this trick with frozen okra, too. The okra will become very soft, and it sort of melts into the other ingredients. If you’re an okra devotee, this probably won’t bother you.
When I decided that I’d like to come up with my version of the South Louisiana staple, Shrimp and Okra Gumbo, I consulted my darling husband first. He likes the viscous texture of boiled okra. And he rejected the inclusion of tomatoes and sausage— it’s not the way his mama made it. So I thought I’d experiment and make the gumbo his way and mine. I love tomatoes with okra; they’re kissing cousins, and something porky in the mix can’t be beat. I wasn’t going to eliminate either. And I thought that dashi would make an excellent broth instead of the water that most recipes use.
Dashi is the easiest of all the stocks to make. It’s rich with minerals from kombu (a type of seaweed) and has a lovely smoky edge from the bonito (smoked, fermented, dried and flaked tuna). One of the original Iron Chefs, Michiba, started nearly every battle making a fresh batch of this “broth of vigor.” And unlike bone broths, dashi take less than 20 minutes to make, so Michiba could wallop the competition in record time. Dashi is packed with nutrients that most Americans miss out on since we’re not inclined to eat many sea vegetables. I love the flavor and use it as my go-to seafood stock. It’s gently reminiscent of the ocean and can be used in non-seafood dishes without seeming out of place. Make extra and freeze it in ice cubes trays so you’ll have some when you want to boost the umami of a dish.
By now my gumbo was all kinds of wrong in Harris’s estimation. But I asked him to keep an open mind. When he got home from “school,” (he’s a technical instructor), he was super hungry as he doesn’t eat breakfast during the week and had to skip lunch for a meeting. He looked at the pots of gumbo on the stove and opted right away for my version. He didn’t even try the gloopy one sans tomatoes and sausage. We serve gumbo over rice, but you can keep it paleo by eliminating it or using cauliflower “rice.” Harris has decided he loves my recipe and gives it his ultimate compliment: “You can make this anytime. I could eat it every day.”
On to dessert. I’ve wanted to tackle a paleo banana pudding for a while and come up with a recipe that used no added sugars. After checking in at Cook’s Illustrated, I decided to follow their technique of roasting some of the bananas which concentrates the flavor and then double the impact with fresh bananas. I also wanted to add pineapple since it would play well with the coconut milk base. To ramp up the pineapple’s flavor and bring out more of the sweetness, I sautéed it in butter. For a final tropical twist, there are toasted macadamia nuts. Whipped cream is optional, but it’s also delicious. Or you could whip up the coconut cream that rises to the top of a chilled can of coconut milk (use regular coconut milk, not lite).
Since this is a quintessential Southern meal, I thought some Southern rock would be in order. I found a list of “best unknown Southern rock tunes” compiled by Brion McClanahan. He did an awesome job, so I’ll share his treasure trove. Bon appétit!