As love/hate foods that divide or unite, okra is right up there with grits and livermush. (Thanks to childhood liver-aversion therapy, I've never learned the trick to loving livermush. But if you struggle with grits, remember that cheese grits are the newbie's training wheels. You're welcome.)
But okra . . . well, okra does have this tendency toward sliminess. It's called roping, and it's as much a part of the okra experience as cornmeal and a frying pan. The roping actually contributes to okra's usefulness as a thickener for dishes like gumbo, when the gooey stuff melds with the roux base to create a velvety texture.
At least, I had always assumed that okra and slime go together. Until two weeks ago, when I was reporting today's story on book-club food. Rhonda Cramer, who was hosting her club's discussion of Michael Polan's "In Defense of Food," mentioned that she would definitely be serving "the amazing roasted okra."
Roasted okra? I've made grilled okra, and fried okra, and I've stirred together my share of gumbos. But roasting okra was new to me. Cramer said she got the technique from a farmer at the Matthews Community Farmers Market. It's amazing, she assured me: It gets as crispy as potato chips, and even non-okraists love it.
At the Charlotte Regional Farmer's Market that Saturday, Dean Mullis had bags of very fresh red okra at his stand. I took a bag home and followed Rhonda's directions: Cut each pod in half lengthwise, from stem to tip. Toss them with a tablespoon or so of olive oil and about a teaspoon of salt (I used coarse kosher salt). Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in a hot oven for about 20 minutes. You want them to get really dark, almost black.
Result? No slime at all. The pieces get as crispy as potato chips. Even my non-vegetable-loving husband ate them, and my teenage son went nuts over them, fighting for the last bits on the plate.
My checks at the farmers market last weekend showed okra is still abundant. Although smaller pods are better, I had some larger pods in my batch and they worked fine. Their tips curled up like little Persian slippers and they looked very pretty.
Seriously. Non-slimy okra. Who knew?