Okra or ochro as it’s passionately known in the Caribbean is quickly becoming one of my favorite ingredients to prepare. Gone are the days when our mom couldn’t even beg us to eat fried okra or okra in general. Steamed, fried, stuffed or in stews.. I love me some okra now. I recall my mom always having okra in her small kitchen garden at the back of our home and it was my duty to pick them for making callaloo on a Sunday. That was my only okra intake as a child.. in callaloo. I still recall getting wet by the dew drops on the leaves of the plant before the morning sun came up and how you had to be careful not to brush too much against the plant or you’d have to deal with itchy skin.
4 tablespoon Veg Oil
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup salted fish *
1/2 scotch bonnet pepper
Notes: I used salted cod but you can use your fav type of saltfish. Since the flakes of salted fish will still contain some salt, you may not need to add any salt to the dish. However do taste near the end of cooking and adjust accordingly. Remember when working with scotch bonnet (and any hot pepper) that most of the raw heat is in the seeds and white membrane surrounding the seeds. Discard if you’re concerned about the heat. Cooking okra like this uses a lot of oil, so I used a non stick pan to help cut back on the amount of oil I needed.
Okra is notorious for having a slimy texture and this is what usually turns people off it. This little tip will help you overcome this.. wash and dry the okra with paper towels, then trim off the stems. Cut into 1/4 inch wheels (or any shape you like), then line a cookie sheet with more paper towels or a tea towel and spread the now cut okra onto the cookie sheet. Try to make it one layer, then place in direct sun for a couple hrs to dry off. If you don’t have that wonderful Caribbean sunshine, simply place it in a corner of your kitchen and allow it to air dry for a few hours.
If you’re not sure how to work with salted fish, you must check out this video : How To Prepare Salted Fish Basically you have to place the salted fish in a deep pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Leave for 2-25 minutes on a rolling boil, then drain and rinse off with cool water. Now break apart into flakes or shred. The goal is to remove most of the salt the fish is cured in, rehydrate the fish so it plumps up and to sort of tenderize it a bit.
Heat the oil on a medium heat in a non stick pan and add the shredded salted cod. Reduce to a low heat and allow to cook for about 4-6 minutes. As the pieces of fish starts to crispy up and edges go brown, it’s time to add the sliced onion, scotch bonnet pepper garlic and black pepper. Allow this to cook on a medium heat for a couple minutes. The idea is to create a very flavorful base before we add the sliced okra.
With your heat still on medium, add the now dried okra slices into the pan and give it a good stir. Please don’t cover the pan.. we don’t want to add any moisture to the pan or risk it going slimy.
Here’s where you can personalize the dish. I like my fried okra with a little crunch but the edges must be browned, so I allowed mine to cook for 20 minutes but you can certainly cook longer or less time. After 20 minutes I topped with the tomato (please remove all seeds and liquid before dicing) and gave it a good stir. Basically the tomato is to brighten up the dish, so 2 minutes of cooking and the fried okra should be done. The last couple minutes is when you should taste for salt and adjust accordingly. It’s important to add salt near the end of cooking when working with okra as it will also cause moisture to develop and you really don’t want that.
I could honestly have this for breakfast. lunch or dinner.. give me some brown rice, roti or flour dumplings and I’m cool as a cucumber. This fried okra recipe is a HIT and I’m sure you’ll change your thoughts o okra after you’ve given it a try.
The absolute only way I would engage in any dish with ochro (Okra) growing up, was callaloo and in some of the soups my mom would make on a Saturday. However that didn’t stop my mom from cooking fry ochro with and without saltfish (dry salted cod). We had a small garden (aka kitchen garden) at the back of our home and one of the vegetables we grew was ochro, so we always had a ready supply. However they were a bit different than the ones we get here in the supermarkets in Canada. Ours were a lighter green in colour (almost yellowish) and about 2 to 3 times longer, when ready to reap.
Fry ochro is yet another dish I only started to appreciate in adulthood, as many of the others I’ve mentioned in previous posts.
1-2 lbs Ochro (okra)
Salt to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon)
6 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion sliced
2-3 cloves garlic (crushed – chopped)
1 pimento pepper 9sliced)
Note: I ended up using a pimento pepper in preparation only because I ran out of my usual habanero and/or scotch bonnet peppers. If you’re using a scotch bonnet pepper, you’ll only need a couple slices. BTW, the pepper is optional but it adds a nice flavour to the fry ochro.
Wash the ochroes and allow to air dry on paper towels or a kitchen towel. From advice from my mom, I allowed this to dry for about 2 hrs (there’s a reason why I did this, which I’ll explain below).
After which I trim the stems off the ochro and discard… then I slice each ochro about 1/4 to 1/2 a centimeter (about the thickness of 2 quarters). I then placed the slices on paper towel to air dry once more again. I recall my mom would allow the slices to air-dry on the counter top overnight. However, those were fresh-of-the-tree ochroes and not the store bought stuff that were probably harvested many days before that we get here. So I allowed it to air dry for a couple hours after they were sliced.
Why air dry 2 times?
It’s common knowledge that ochro is a bit slimy (mucilage) when sliced and can remain that way even when cooked. To avoid that sort of slimy texture the air drying process seems to remove most of the natural liquid in the ochro and prevents it from being overly slimy.
In a saucepan heat the olive oil (you can use vegetable oil, but since I’m using so much oil I thought it would be best to use a healthier oil) on medium to high heat. Then add the garlic, onion and slices of pepper. Allow this to cook for a few minutes, until it starts going brown. The next step is to add the sliced ochro and stir around. Then add the salt and allow to cook with the pan uncovered for about 20 minutes on medium/low heat.
It’s very important that you cook with the pan uncovered and that you stir very often. In about 20 minutes or so you’ll notice that the ochro starts to go brown (edges), this would be an indication that it cooked. I usually allow mine to go a bit dark (beyond golden) as I like the sort of nutty taste you get when the natural sugars starts to really caramelize. During the cooking process the ochro may start to stick to the bottom of the pot and you’ll notice that it absorbed all the oil you started off with. You can either turn down the heat or add a couple more tablespoons of oil. I usually turn down the heat a bit.
If you like to really make this uniquely Trinbagonian, add some pieces of salted cod to the oil before adding the onion, garlic and pepper that we started off with. If you do add some salted cod, you won’t need to add any additional salt to the dish.
Be sure to leave your comments below and I encourage you to share your ochro (okra) recipes with us.