Fabulous & A Little Funky: More Under-used Stuff

Okra

Spiced Okra with Fried ChickenThere is one thing which can be counted on ... I will smile like a giddy schoolgirl the first day okra makes an appearance at the market. Yeah, yeah, I know. My "Okie" is showing. Just a couple of years in Oklahoma way back in early grade school instilled in me a few loves which will be with me for life.

One of these is for okra in just about any form.

Outside the Louisiana joints and a handful of Asian places, okra is one of those veggies you virtually never see, which I think is a fucking shame. Not only is okra yummy as hell, it's also very low-calorie and packs a nutritional wallop. I know lots of people won't really discover some of these things because they're a bit put off by the gooey stuff in the funky-looking pods.

But, the good news is, most ways you cook okra pretty much do away with the slimy stuff. In other cases, it really helps a lot. For instance, I have a killer recipe for a roux-less gumbo (only for when we're REALLY getting strict with our diet), thickened with okra only.

It's such a tasty and adaptable treat, too. When I have the patience to actually wait a week or so, I use it to make zesty, spicy fridge pickles. Other times, I use it in a vegan African style stew with tomatoes, kale, ginger, and a bit of sexy heat. But my favorite way to eat my okra is like this ... just sliced with a goodly sprinkle of spice.

It makes a perfect foil for some kicked up fried chicken.

Here's what's in them ...

The okra, cut into about 1/2" slices, gets a quick toss with a little kosher salt, a lot of granulated garlic, a little sumac and Aleppo pepper. Then at Medium heat, cook in a bit of olive oil, stirring and adding a bit more spice as you like, until the okra is cooked but still has some firmness. It's usually about 7-10 minutes. The key is not letting the heat get too high or the spices will burn ... and that's not sexy at all.

The chicken is allowed to lose the cold of the fridge (for about 20-30 minutes), then sprinkled with kosher salt, granulated garlic, sumac, cayenne pepper, then more garlic before being dredged in flour and tapped to remove the excess. I let it hang out a few more minutes before frying. Then it's some medium hot oil (halfway up) for about 10-12 minutes per side. If the skin is getting too brown too early, the oil is probably too hot. If your frying pan, like mine, holds heat, you'll probably adjust down progressively down if you have more than one batch.

One important tip with fried chicken ... don't put it into the oven after frying. That will only kill the crunchy skin you want. Just let it cool on a rack ... it's actually kinda better that way anyway.

Beets

Spinch & Veggie Salad with Beets, Gorgonzola, and WalnutsAnother not-widely-appreciated-nearly-enough veggie I played with this week is beets. Trendy restaurants have rediscovered beets recently, which makes me happy. But they're not exactly popular, which is kind of a crime against yumminess. And, like okra, beets are fabulously good for you in addition to being fabulous in lots of dishes.

I've experimented a bit with borscht and other ways to get my beet on but, for my money, there is one way to have beets that stands heads and shoulders above them all. They are absolutely foodgasmic in a big, tasty, healthy dinner salad. We had a big ol' spinach salad with lots of extra veggies topped with beets and, at least in our house, their regular companions. It goes like this ...

Beets + gorgonzola + walnuts = MULTIPLE FOODGASM

Just clean and split the beets, pop them into a 400º oven until they can easily be pierced with a fork. This time out, that was about 80 minutes ... your time will vary with the size of the beets. Once they cool, peel them, cut into sections, and slice thin. You can use a mandolin to do it, but it can get a bit unwieldy if you're handling the beets correctly.

There is one important thing to note, when working with beets. They stain like a motherfucker. Fortunately, I dye my hair so always have a set of clean gloves on hand to bring into the kitchen for handling stuff like beets and fresh turmeric, when I don't want to dye my fingers and nails. You can get cheap gloves at any beauty supply store ... get the nice, thin ones so you still have feeling when handling stuff. Make sure to clean them well before handling food, then you're ready to go.

Oxtail

Oxtail over Sweet Potato "Fries" - Inspired by PoutineOne more under-used ingredient, one of my favorite decadent treats, is oxtail. Like another seriously under-utilized meat, tongue, oxtail is rich, succulent, and sexy as hell on the taste-buds ... so long as you give it the cooking time it needs. Like some other formerly "humble" cuts, oxtail has gotten a bit more common and, depending on your neighborhood, can be not priced so humbly anymore. But, trust me, it's worth it! This past week, the lovely Jon's Market had oxtail on sale for $2.99/lb and my face just lit up like fucking Xmas!

I decided to do a bit more luxurious spin on poutine, inspired by the awesomely sexy version at L.A.'s Animal. Because we're trying to keep our diet from sinking into heart-attack-in-a-bowl territory, I skipped the cheese. It probably would have added an extra kick to the flavor and texture but, honestly, the other ingredients really didn't need help.

Instead of regular, not-quite-so-nutritious french fries, I lightly tossed some sliced sweet potatoes in olive oil, added some groovy spices (kosher salt, granulated garlic, sumac, Aleppo pepper), and baked them in the oven (at 425º for about 40 minutes or so ... your time will vary based on the size fry you like. Just turn them every 10-15 minutes to keep an eye on them so they don't burn). What they took away in deep-fried crispity-crunchy, the sweet potato "fries" added a lot in earthy yet sweet flavor. It was a perfect little bit of bite to counter the rich oxtail gravy but not overwhelm it.

Because, in this dish, the star is definitely the oxtail. I used a more traditional stew base of red wine and aromatics to slow cook down until the meat is succulently delicious. This is how it went ...

2.5 lbs. oxtail

kosher salt / granulated garlic

2 TBSP olive oil

1 onion - peeled, ends removed, quartered

10 cloves garlic - smashed

2 cups red wine + a splash for the mushrooms (I used a Cabernet)

2 cans (14.5 oz) - beef broth

1 lb mushrooms - stems removed for base and caps quartered

2 TBSP butter

1 TBSP flour (for a thinner gravy ... you can add 1 more for a thicker sauce-like consistency)

1 - Heat the oil in your pot to MED HIGH, sprinkle the oxtail with the salt & garlic, then brown well on all sides. Don't skip this or get impatient, since the browning is critical. Set aside.

2 - Lower oil to LOW and add onion quarters and garlic and stir until golden brown. Then add the wine and deglaze the pot before returnng the oxtail and adding the broth and the stems from the mushrooms. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a LOW SIMMER for 3 hours uncovered. Keeping the lid off will allow the liquid to reduce to about 1/3 its original volume ... you want this to happen!

3 - Set the oxtails aside to cool before pulling the meat from the bones and cutting up. Strain the broth. In the original pot on MED, melt the butter then add the mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and garlic, stirring until they start to color and cook down. Once they are beginning to release liquid, add the extra wine and stir until cooked through and wine is reduced. Add the flour and stir well to coat the mushrooms. Then pour the strained broth back in and bring to a bubble before turning back down to LOW and stir while it thickens. Then add the meat back in and serve over whatever sounds yummy.

Well, that's the lot for this week. I've got some more funky stuff ready to roll next ... those plantains in the kitchen have some awesome possibilities. Until then, have fun playing with your food. I know I will!