Though it’s still possible to find corn, zucchini and tomatoes in the markets, it’s hard to ignore the diminishing returns in quantity, quality and most importantly, enthusiasm. As the summer season closes out, there’s more reason to try something new that you may have overlooked: Okra, hearty, versatile and available through early October, may be that thing.
Despite its appealing light green or deep purple hue and star-shaped barrel, okra’s prickly fuzz and woodsy exterior make it the odd man out when you think of its more pleasing relations in the mallow family– hibiscus, cotton, and cacao. The accessible and grill-ready summer produce it’s forced to share market space with doesn’t help, either, especially when so many recipes refer to the mucilage, slime and goo okra produces – really just a soluble fiber that thicken stews but doesn’t gain it many converts.
Coming from either southwest Asia or eastern Africa, it was introduced to the New World through the slave trade. A staple of traditional southern cooking, it’s also the foundation of many Caribbean Creole recipes. Known in Cuba as quimbombó (say King Gumbo very fast), it’s the base of soups and stews made with combinations of slab bacon, pork, ham, chorizo, chicken or tasajo, a dry cured beef. Apart from the usual sofrito of green bell peppers and onion, chunks of plantain or malanga can be added. And the acidity of tomatoes, dry white wine and citrus juices tame the goo and help bring out the flavors or okra. Served on its own as a broth-heavy stew or allowed to thicken and ladled over white rice, its worth a second look as our thoughts turn from cooling off to warming up.
Quimbombó con Carne de Puerco y Bolitas de Plátano/Okra Stew with Pork and Plantain Dumplings
Quimbombó may refer to both the pods and the prepared stew in all of its variations. When choosing okra, look for shorter pods, no longer than 3” inches long, that are firm and unblemished. The pods should be well rinsed, dried and trimmed just before using. To cut down on the mucilage, sliced pods can also be pre-soaked in cold water with about a teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar. Drain well before using. The okra should only be added in the last 10-15 minutes of cooking so that they’re tender but not mushy.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
1/4 pound slab bacon, cubed
1 pound lean pork shoulder, cut into 1″ chunks
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup naranja agria (50/50 fresh orange juice combined with fresh lime juice)*
1 large white onion, peeled and chopped
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1-2 large tomatoes, cut in half horizontally
4-5 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 pound fresh okra
20-24 plantain dumplings (see below)
Rinse the okra pods well and blot the pods with paper towels.
Using the side of a large knife or mortar and pestle, mash the garlic to a paste and combine well with salt and pepper. Add citrus juices. In a large glass bowl, pour marinade over pork chunks and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
In a large heavy pot or dutch oven, sauté the bacon over medium-high heat until it begins to render its fat, about 1-2 minutes. Drain pork chunks well and reserve the marinade. Pat chunks dry then add to the pot, turning them until they are browned on all sides, about 5-6 minutes. Lower heat to medium, add the onions and peppers and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Pass the cut tomatoes through a box grater, reserving the pulp and juice and discarding the skin. Add the tomato pulp, broth, and wine. Slowly bring to a steady simmer then cook an additional 10 minutes. To prepare the okra, trim the ends then slice the pods into 1/4-inch rounds, dropping them into the pot as you go, cook an additional 10 minutes. The pork should be cooked through and fork tender. Add the plantain dumplings and simmer until warmed through, about 5 more minutes.
Recipe Notes: Naranja agria is made from sour or Seville oranges that are available in many Latin American markets. If you cannot find fresh sour oranges, a mixture that is equal parts fresh orange juice to lime juice is preferable to the pre-bottled marinades.
Makes 20-24 dumplings.
Cut the plantains in half, leaving the peels on. Put plantains in a heavy saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a rolling boil. Lower to heat to medium and simmer covered until the plantains are tender and peeking out of the peel, about 10 minutes.
When cool enough to handle but still warm, peel, place in a large bowl and mash together. Scoop out one tablespoon of mashed plantain and shape into 1”-inch balls.
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