I was one of those weird kids who always liked okra. Something about the snappy skin and pop of the seeds made me forget the slime and embrace the long, pointy vegetables. I did, of course, almost always eat okra breaded and deep fried, so maybe I just liked the salty, greasy crunch. Brys Stephens doesn't have any recipes for fried okra in his cookbook, The New Southern Table, preferring instead to roast, sauté, and simmer the vegetable. I was particularly intrigued by his Greek-inspired recipe that brings together okra, tomatoes, and briny feta cheese. Stephens adds punch to the okra itself by quickly pickling it with salt and red wine vinegar before simmering it in sauce and spiking it with the cheese and a flurry of minced fresh marjoram.
Why I picked this recipe: How could I say no to okra and feta cheese?
What worked: I appreciated how the vinegar and salt penetrated the okra, brightening their vegetal flavor. Plus, feta and tomatoes are the perfect pair.
What didn't: I thought the recipe was a bit heavy-handed with the marjoram, giving the dish a bit of a medicinal taste. Cut back to 1 teaspoon and add more if you're missing it.
Suggested tweaks: If you can't find fresh marjoram, you can substitute fresh oregano. The recipe makes four very large servings or 6 moderate ones. You should be able to cut the recipe in half if you're serving 3-4 people.
Reprinted with permission from The New Southern Table: Classic Ingredients Revisited by Brys Stephens. Copyright 2014. Published by Fair Winds Press. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- 2 pounds (905 g) okra, any tough stem ends trimmed away and discarded
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon and 1/4 teaspoon (19.5 g) kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons (28 ml) olive oil
- 1 medium-size shallot, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons (32 g) tomato paste
- 2 medium-size tomatoes, chopped, or 2 cups (500 g) tomato puree
- 1 cup (235 ml) water, plus more as needed
- 2 teaspoons (1.2 g) minced fresh marjoram
- 4 ounces (115 g) feta cheese, crumbled
- Freshly ground black pepper
Place the okra in a large glass or plastic bowl, toss with the vinegar to coat, and season with the 1 tablespoon (18 g) of the salt. Toss to combine, and set aside for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour, stirring once or twice; rinse the okra well in a colander, and pat dry.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring frequently, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, to toast it on the bottom of the pan, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the okra, tomatoes, the 1/4 teaspoon (1.5 g) salt, and 1 cup (235 ml) water, bring to a boil, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes, or until the sauce thickens and the okra is tender. Add a little water if the pan gets dry as the okra cooks. Add the marjoram and feta, stir to combine, and season to taste with salt and pepper.