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Sear split okra pods until charred to reduce 'slime'

Okra is a vegetable whose reputation precedes it. Even people who have never tried okra probably deem it “slimy.”

That texture and mouth feel that some people find so off-putting comes from naturally occurring sugar residues and proteins that produce mucilage. Containing soluble fiber, the mucilage increases as okra pods are heated. That process helps to thicken a classic gumbo, the subject of this blog’s previous post, but can render a simply cooked side dish of okra inedible for some palates.

Okra is one of those foods for which very long cooking or very short cooking are key. Deep-frying is an ideal way of preparing okra, as is searing on a very hot surface until charred.

That approach applies to several quintessential summer vegetables in this salad recently published by the Los Angeles Times. Writer Ben Mims heralds Charred Okra and Corn Salad With Spicy Sausage Vinaigrette as a one-dish meal worthy of preparing as long as the veggies last. Combine it with some sausage and bacon for savor, emulsifying the fat into a zesty vinaigrette. If you like, add chunks of mozzarella, feta or goat cheese just before serving.

The recipe calls for Jimmy Nardello peppers, long, finger-like red peppers that are mild and floral with no heat. They’re available at farmers markets and in some specialty grocery stores. Popular with home gardeners, they can be purchased at Melissas.com.

If you can’t find them, use half the amount of long red finger chiles or Fresno chiles. Because they will be much spicier than Jimmy Nardello peppers, be fastidious about removing their seeds, unless you love lots of heat. Regular red bell peppers will be much sweeter than Jimmy Nardellos.

Charred Okra and Corn Salad With Spicy Sausage Vinaigrette

1 large heirloom or vine-ripe tomato (about 12 ounces), cored

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 almond-size garlic clove, peeled and minced

8 ounces spicy Italian sausage, casings removed

3 tablespoons everyday olive oil

8 Jimmy Nardello peppers (4 ounces), stemmed and torn into strips lengthwise

8 ounces okra, split lengthwise

1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (from 3 to 4 ears)

Granulated sugar (optional)

Flaky sea salt

Torn basil or flat-leaf parsley leaves, to garnish

Cut the tomato into half-inch-thick wedges or slices and arrange them evenly over bottom of a large serving platter. Season tomatoes with salt and black pepper. In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar and garlic.

Crumble the sausage into a large nonstick skillet, then place over medium heat. Once sausage starts sizzling, continue cooking, stirring occasionally and breaking up crumbles as you go, until deeply golden brown and crisp, for 8 to 10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon or heat-proof silicone spatula, scrape sausage and its fat into a large bowl.

Return skillet to medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the peppers, season with salt and black pepper and cook, in a single layer and undisturbed, until lightly blistered on 1 side, for about 2 minutes. Toss peppers and cook, undisturbed, until blistered all over and just tender, for 1 to 2 minutes more. Scrape peppers into bowl and leave them on top of sausage.

Return skillet to medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the okra to skillet, season with salt and black pepper and cook, using tongs to arrange each piece cut side down as much as you can (this helps rid them of their slimy texture, but don’t sweat over it), until charred on 1 side, for 3 to 4 minutes. Toss okra in skillet and continue cooking until lightly charred on other side and just tender, for 3 to 4 minutes more. Scrape okra into bowl and leave it on top of peppers.

Return skillet to medium heat and add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the corn, season with salt and black pepper, and sugar if using, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned, for 3 to 4 minutes. Scrape corn into bowl, add vinegar-garlic mixture and toss everything together while warm.

Immediately spoon salad over tomatoes in an even layer. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and more black pepper. Garnish with basil just before serving.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

VARIATION: If you have bacon, use 6 strips, cooked and crumbled, in place of the sausage. If there are leftovers, sandwich with queso Oaxaca or mozzarella between tortillas for quesadillas. Want to make this vegan? Use vegan meat substitutes like Beyond Meat spicy Italian sausage, soyrizo or cooked, crumbled extra-firm tofu. Or omit meat altogether and replace it with diced avocado.

Tribune News Service photo