And so, last night, I had an okra nightcap. I got home late, popped a can of Yuengling, dragged out the collards, started frying yellow zucchini, and then I trolled the Net for okra recipes. Most people I know are okra-averse because this vegetable releases a mucousy film when you cook it. I've always found okra intriguing -- the slime is a bit sci-fi, but if you watch a little "Dr. Who" while you're cooking, you can shrug it off.
Okra is related to the hibiscus, and the edible part is actually the fruit of this beautiful flowering plant. I grew it last summer. Stunning to see: okra rises out of the soil like a crown of thorns, with huge yellow blossoms and a ring of pointy pods. When you cut them into rounds, they make these lovely pinwheels.
I like to grill okra. Just toss it in sesame oil, skewer it, and let it crispen over the coals. Last night, though, I read a recipe for scalloped okra, and I knew I had to go casserole. I made a few substitutions, and oh mama, I found myself with a new fave hot dish. Cheese and okra? I know, it takes a little getting used to if you've thought of okra as a gumbo-only ingredient. But trust me, this dish tastes perversely like mac'n cheese. You could easily serve it to okra haters and they'd never know.
With a side of vinegary collards and some fried zucchini, my okra nightcap rounded out one of the best CSA meals I've ever made. I'm already scheming to make it again -- for Thansgiving, peut-etre? As for cheese, I used some leftover Grana Padano, which added a luxe sweetness that I loved, but you could also use a good Parm or cheddar.
Cheesy Scalloped Okra
2 cups chopped okra
1 can corn
4 Tablespoons butter
1 cup milk, at room temperature
2 Tablespoons flour
1.5 cups Grana Padano or Parmesan
1 cup breadcrumbs
Fresh chives, chopped (or scallions)
Salt & pep
Heat 2 Tablespoons of butter in a skillet and fry the okra rounds on medium heat until the edges begin to brown. Then, butter a small casserole dish and layer the corn and okra, sprinkling salt and pepper after each layer.
In a saucepan, melt the rest of the butter over low heat. Whisk in the 2 Tablespoons of flour, and add the milk in dribs and drabs. Don't add too much milk at once or it will get clumpy. This takes a steady hand, lots of stirring. When the mixture begins to thicken, sprinkle in the cheese.
Pour the sauce over the layered corn and okra, top the mess with breadcrumbs, and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes -- until the edges bubble and the breadcrumbs brown. Garnish avec chives or chopped parsley.
Additions: This recipe would also be good if you added sauteed onions or mushrooms.