Okra is prized in New Orleans for its ability to flavor and thicken gumbos, soups and stews. Locally, we also highly regard this fuzzy vegetable for its many other adaptations. Okra that has been pickled in a spicy brine is a common snack food eaten straight from the jar. That same pickled okra makes frequent appearances at parties as the star of the “relish tray” and as the number one garnish for Bloody Marys. We frequently stew this popular pod too with the likes of Creole tomatoes, onions and garlic. Sometimes we embellish that dish with ham or shrimp. Other times, we keep it simple and serve it over rice. In true Southern fashion, we also love okra battered and deep fried. Just recently, I discovered how amazing it is grilled.
What I like most about grilling okra is the fact that the high heat helps preserve its gardenlike flavor and maintain some of its crispy texture. The smokiness imparted by the grill also enhances the okra’s earthy bite. By slicing the pods lenghwise (note in the recipe that I keep them “hinged” at the stem end), I find that the okra cooks evenly and is less likely to “slim.” But I have had a couple of issues with stringy pods. Those were typically the larger ones. Stick with smaller pods to minimize that problem. Grilled okra is amazing in and of itself. But … but, you know how I am about dipping and saucing. So I created a tangy little ranch dressing number that can either be drizzled over the grilled okra or served on the side. To pay tribute to our iconic dish of stewed okra and tomatoes, I incorporated a tomato into what was already a really good and zingy jalapeno ranch salad dressing. The tomato actually tempers the heat of the jalapeno pepper, which is why I think the hubby prefers the dressing without it. My suggestion to you is to blend all the ingredients except the tomato, set aside a small portion of that and then add the tomato and finish the recipe. That way you’ll have two variations of the dressing to try. I hope that makes sense. If not, follow the recipe as written. It won’t disappoint.
The most appropriate cocktail to pair with today’s finger food is a Bloody Mary. I actually make a heavily seasoned version I affectionately call “Cajun Marys.” I’m not going to share that recipe with you today though because I’m currently messing around with it. But there are many lip-smacking premixes on the market. When I don’t have any of mine ready, I usually reach for Zing Zang, Tabasco or McClure’s. If you have another spicy favorite, please share.
Until next week …
Grilled Okra with Jalapeno-Tomato Ranch Dressing Recipe
1 pound fresh okra
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and black pepper to taste
Jalapeno-Tomato Ranch Dressing, for serving (see recipe)
Preheat grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, partially cut okra in half lengthwise leaving them connected at the stem end. Place in a large resealable plastic bag and set aside. Combine the olive oil and garlic in a small microwave-proof dish. Cover and cook in microwave on high until the garlic becomes fragrant, about 1 minute; cool slightly. Pour olive oil mixture over okra and season to taste with salt and pepper. Seal bag; turn to evenly coat. Marinate for at least 15 minutes. Place okra directly on grill perpendicular to the grates (alternatively, double skewer pods on 12-inch wooden skewers that have soaked in water for 2 hours, as shown in my picture) and cook until tender and slightly charred, 4-5 minutes per side. Serve immediately with Jalapeno-Tomato Ranch Dressing for dipping. Makes 4 servings.
Jalapeno-Tomato Ranch Dressing Recipe
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
3 green onions, sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Store dressing in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Makes about 3/4 cup.
VARIATION: Omit tomato for a spicier Jalapeno Ranch Dressing.