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Column: What do okra and brussels sprouts have in common?

Credit: Becky Stein

Okra at Restaurant Eugene (Credit: Becky Stein)

This week’s column shows why the skillet is better than the pot for certain maligned vegetables.

Brussels sprouts and okra really have nothing in common, other than they are small, green and often reviled. Brussels sprouts belong to the crucifer family, where they share obvious parentage with cabbages and cauliflower. Okra comes from the mallow family, along with the less obvious cacao and jute.
Yet the two share a history: They both made it through the long, dark ages of boiled vegetables without any scientific attempts at eradication, as for polio or some troublesome strain of ebola virus. Boiled brussels sprouts, the horror of Thanksgivings past, were waterlogged balls that smell of rotten eggs no matter how much margarine our mothers melted over them. Boiled okra decomposed into a puddle of slime and seed, and tasted of nothing so much as damp paper. It’s a wonder people continued raising okra rather than relegating the last viable seeds to a freezer in the basement of the CDC.
But wait. Both of these vegetables have become the darlings of trendy restaurants, thanks to the rediscovery of the skillet.
Smart chefs got to thinking that maybe some foods respond better to the hot, dry heat of a frying pan than to the rolling boil of the pot. You wouldn’t boil a T-bone steak or a ladle of pancake batter, right? Just because you boil peas and snap beans, that doesn’t mean every vegetable deserves the same treatment.
The only problem was that neither brussels sprouts nor okra have the flat surfaces that would actually sear in a skillet. Add them whole to a smoking-hot pan, and with some luck you’d end up with black spots on the surface and crunchy rawness in the center. (I’ve eaten raw brussels sprouts, and I wouldn’t recommend it.) On the plus side, you would get to find out if your smoke detector worked.
But what if you cut them through the middle? Then you could actually sear these vegetables and maybe even retain their crispness as they cooked.
Enterprising chefs devised the basic technique for cooking previously vilified vegetables. They cut them clean through the center, heated a good, thick skillet with a gloss of oil and seared them over high heat to get a mahogany tinge. Then they turned the heat down and cooked the vegetables for a few more minutes on their cut and uncut sides until they got to that magical place called “crisp tender.”
And this is what you should do, too, particularly now that the end of okra season will give into the beginning of brussels sprouts season. If you want a recipe, Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill has a terrific one in the August 2010 issue of Food & Wine magazine. He sears the okra just as I described, then tosses them right at the end with an Indian spice mixture of paprika, cumin, coriander, fennel seed, turmeric and fenugreek. He recommends serving it with lentils and yogurt.
I’ve found that once the cross-cut okra are well seared, then you can add wet ingredients without worrying about the okra going all gooey on you. In fact, I find that chopped tomatoes, chicken broth, butter and shallots finish the okra quite nicely.
So get some fresh okra and do this. Don’t cut crosswise, cut lengthwise. Heat pan. Place side down. Five or six minutes tops. Goodbye slime.
And if you like that, I’ve got a Thanksgiving recipe for you.

27 comments Add your comment

Doo Doo Delicacy

September 13th, 2010
10:13 am

Capn Ds has excellent Fried Okra. Brussel Sprouts…BLEH *PUKE*.

Kar

September 13th, 2010
10:21 am

You can also roast brussel sprouts to get an all-over crisp/browning.

I think there’s also just a lot of folks down here who are unfamiliar with northern vegetables like brussel sprouts or pattypan squash. They seem more suited for cold weather growing.

Stell Simonton

September 13th, 2010
10:29 am

Southern cooks have always known how to fry okra. It’s nothing new.

Reds

September 13th, 2010
10:38 am

I have just found out that I like brussel sprouts. trim the stem, slice in half, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, throw them in a 9×13 cut side down, then roast at 415 for 45 mins. Stirring 1/2 through, and then again halfway through that. When finished, sprinkle a little fresh grated parm. Had it last night actually with some broccoli thrown in that was on the push list.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ajcdinecritic, John Kessler. John Kessler said: Column: What do okra and brussels sprouts have in common? http://bit.ly/a4wQK0 [...]

M. Johnson

September 13th, 2010
11:03 am

I recently discovered and fell in love with a similar brussels sprouts dish at Young Augustine’s. They throw in some cauliflower and a bit of an Asian vinegar, I believe. It’s served over rice. Delicious!

That, and your column have convinced me that it’s safe to try at home.

KC

September 13th, 2010
11:40 am

I have a great Brussels sprouts recipe. Dice a 1/2 pound of pancetta and cook and then set on paper towel to dry. Throw about 1lb of sprouts and 1 pound of diced new potatoes in the pancetta grease and stir it around. Put it all on a cookie sheet and roast about 45 minutes on 425 degrees. Pull it out. Crumble the pancetta over all that and douse liberally with balsamic vinegar and toasted almonds! HEAVEN!

Reds

September 13th, 2010
11:59 am

KC — love the pancetta idea. :)

Rodney

September 13th, 2010
12:16 pm

@Reds and @KC – basically, I use the same recipe for brussels sprouts except I render some bacon fat to coat them with. And, just before serving I throw in the itty bits of bacon that I used to render out the fat. Simple enough to do but I’ve found the initial sprout inspection and pruneing (pruning? you know, “to prune”) takes quite a bit of time!

I grew up in south Georgia so I’m way familiar with the cut/cornmeal/deepfry okra prep. And I have to say I like it. That said, I LOVED the long-cut okra at FLIP (which looks basically like the Resto Eugene version above) and have since adjusted my cooking of okra from traditional to new.

RK

September 13th, 2010
12:43 pm

Now you tell me about the okra…I’ve had so much from my CSA that I’ve pickled tons of them. As for brussel sprouts, I love ‘em roasted or sauteed with bacon.

Bhorsoft

September 13th, 2010
12:58 pm

We just got back from Jekyll Island and had some most wonderful okra at the Driftwood Bistro (one of the better and more reasonable restaurants on the island). They just took a whole pod, top and all, flattened it, dredged it in a light cornmeal batter and pan fried it. It was very light and crispy and very flavorful for okra.

Leftover Coffee Man

September 13th, 2010
1:15 pm

I cut the brussels sprouts in half and microwave them for about 4 minutes then drain them and dry them off before browning them in a mix of olive oil and butter with chopped garlic, salt, and pepper. The little bit of microwave pre-cooking results in them being perfectly cooked with no raw centers.

Jack Meehoff

September 13th, 2010
1:16 pm

Cut the brussels sprouts and okra in half lengthwise. Prepare and cook the sprouts as above. Throw the cut okra in the garbage can. Enjoy eating the sprouts.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by BalloonBoysADV, Goven Bestafarda. Goven Bestafarda said: Okra at Restaurant Eugene (Credit: Becky Stein) http://tinyurl.com/3y5dxxo [...]

JJ

September 13th, 2010
1:18 pm

Cook a few slices of bacon in a skillet. Drain. Put bacon back into skillet, and add 1 box frozen brussel sprouts in butter, and toss. Bring temp up to boil, reduce, cover and simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally……

Willing to try again

September 13th, 2010
1:27 pm

Thanks for the tip. Of all the vegetables my mom made me eat as a child, asparagus, green peppers, and brussle sprouts were the only ones that I continued to hate well into adulthood (when I wisely became a vegetarian). A friend’s mom served small tender asparagus (versus the tree trunks mom liked to eat) and I loved them and routinely eat the small ones whenever I can find them. I also prefer these sauteed rather than her boiling method. The peppers will never happen. Green ones just aren’t ripe. The reds, yellows, oranges, etc. are all great. When I grow them I just let them get ripe as everyone should.

Mom always boiled those nasty green balls and they tasted horrible. If pan searing and the like of half-sprouts is a better approach, I am nothing if not willing to try. I’ve never had an issue with Okra.

cj

September 13th, 2010
1:40 pm

okra has always been a favorite in my household. fried is awesome,
but we also enjoy in southern gulf gumbo.Okra is great to thicken stews or soups, and my favorite is stilled steamed on top of a batch of your favorite peas. man, top with some fresh cuke’s and onions in a bath of vinegar,water,salt,pepper and a little bit of sugar. heavenly…

loukeeda

September 13th, 2010
1:43 pm

I love to let Brussels Sprouts sit in a marinade of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Then just roast them. The vinegar gives a great sweetness!

diamond-e

September 13th, 2010
1:51 pm

my granny always cut a green tomatoe into her okra before frying.that with a serving of her grits and fresh fried catfish.makes a southern boy kinda tear up a little bit

DcBrave33

September 13th, 2010
2:21 pm

I am someone who would never be accused of liking any kind of vegetable, but I have actually eaten brussel sprouts prepared in a similar fashion to that described in this article and can say they are really excellent! Cut the bottom stems off, then slice in half and place in a skillet that has olive oil in the bottom. Add salt (I prefer galic salt) and pepper and place the flat edges down on the skillet. Cook until the sprouts are dark (really, basically until they are black) and roll then around and BAM! You have a wonderful side for anything from Pasta, to Chicken or even Steak. Take it from someone who isn’t a big veggie fan, these are excellent!

John Kessler

September 13th, 2010
3:21 pm

Thanks for all the great ideas…

Sophie's Choice

September 13th, 2010
4:04 pm

I do a Brussels sprouts dish at holidays that even folks who don’t like them will scarf up: saute 8-10 slices of bacon until crisp, then drain off the fat & set bacon aside. When cooled down a bit, add about a teaspoon of olive oil, then toss with some prepped sprouts (peeled & sliced in thirds), some sliced French chestnuts, and some dried marjoram & tarragon until the veggies are coated. Roast in a 450 oven for 30-35 minutes, salt & pepper to taste while still hot (I don’t salt it before roasting, as salt brings out the water, and you want the sprouts to carmelize), toss to stir up all the crispy bits, then plate onto a long narrow platter. To garnish: crumble up the bacon & arrange it in a thick strip down the middle (so that folks who don’t want it can leave it off if they like); serve with meats or fowl. Even kids eat this!

TopSteakHouses.com » Blog Archive

September 13th, 2010
4:20 pm

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Anjalina

September 13th, 2010
5:44 pm

i have a recipe i am going to try with Okra http://www.vahrehvah.com/Bhendi+Jaipuri:3278

TopSteakHouses.com » Blog Archive

September 13th, 2010
10:50 pm

[...] Okra at Restaurant Eugene (Credit: Becky Stein) – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

sally sue

September 14th, 2010
4:54 am

Try your okra at Home Grown ga if you want tasty okra.. just plain good to the last bite…cooked to order.

Elizabeth

September 19th, 2010
3:01 pm

I am in the clear minority because these are possibly my two favorite vegetables ever. Okra – I love it boiled, fried, sauteed, in soups, any way I can get it. Sprouts I love too.

But cooks all over have been skillet cooking okra for years – it didnt take a Top Chef contestant to figure this out. One of my favorite preparations is like the one attributed to Mr Gillespie (whose food I like and I admire btw) above but simply coat with a cajun spice mix for a easy dinner -great with a simple seared pork chops or fish. I grabbed a greek spice blend by mistake once it it was great that way too. One of my favorite little hole in the wall spots in my south GA hometown has been cooking the okra this way since they opened at least 15 years ago and they serve it with catfish!

And with sprouts, roasting is definitely my favorite way. Yes to the pancetta or bacon. then try roasting with either golden beets and a little fresh thyme or tossing in granny smith apple chunks near the end.