Okra with Za’atar
I grew up eating okra in Curaçao, and is more like a thick stew with several types of meat and seafood. The way we eat it in Curaçao the dish is quite slimy and off-putting for people that are not familiar with it. While I love our okra dish which is called ‘Jambo’ I can understand why not a lot of people like it and I set off to make it in a different way to make it more accessible to people. With the main objective to have a dish that is not slimy.
In the Caribbean we have a lot of influences from Africa and I’ve been educating myself on the different connections between the food there and finding the similarities. I find it extremely interesting to see certain dishes we eat in Curaçao are also very present in Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal or Kenya just to name a few. For example, okra stew is quite popular in Ghana and Nigeria although they have a slightly different way of making it. I think not just with Caribbean food but all food it is interesting to see where they come from and how they change and develop in different regions.
For this vegetarian dish I took some inspiration from Indians and how they prepare okra (bhindi). I wanted to add a little bit a tanginess to the dish but need to avoid all liquids and decided to use sumac, which is heavily used in the Middle East. Since I already knew I wanted to use sumac I decided to mix it and use the spice mix za’atar. I got introduced to za’atar when ordering mezze platters, it usually comes on top of bread or salad or other vegetables. It’s a mix of sumac with sesame and other spices, and the other spices can vary a lot depending who you are asking. I made mine with oregano, cumin and coriander seed. When you put it all together I used a Caribbean/African ingredient, with Indian cooking method and Middle Eastern spices. Oof felt like I just travelled the world.
The most important element of cooking okra is to make sure you avoid adding moisture of any kind which will activate the slimy component of okra. Therefore, you need to make sure the okra is dry before you start cutting and that your cutting board and knife is also dry. First, it’s fried just with some oil on high heat and during the entire cooking process I never cover the pan because it creates moisture in the pan. Salt is added at the end of the cooking process because salt removes moisture from food. So, these are all different things to consider and why the order of the steps for this particular recipe is very important.
I served this like a main vegetarian dish with rice, but you could also have it like a veg side dish. As usual the quantity of za’atar you make for this recipe is more than you will need, but you can save it and use it next time on other vegetables or salad. I hope you give it a try and enjoy it as much as I did.
Okra with Za'atar
- 500 gram okra
- 400 gram tomato on vine chopped
- 2 red onion sliced
- 3 tbsp coconut oil
- 1½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp za’atar mix
- 2 tbsp oregano
- 2 tbsp sumac
- 2 tbsp sesame seed toasted
- 2 tbsp cumin
- 2 tbsp ground coriander
- It’s important to clean the okra, but also of the essence to work with dry okra. Clean the okra in a bowl of water and use a colander to drain the water. Wrap the okra in kitchen towel to drain any excess water from them and set aside.
- Mix all za’atar ingredients together and save in a jar.
- Make sure your cutting board and knife is dry, if necessary pat each okra dry with a paper towel. Any moisture will release the slime in the okra and we want to avoid that as much as possible.
- Cut the ends of the okra and slice.
- In a pan heat up 2 tbsp coconut on medium high heat and add the okra to cook for 10 minutes stirring every so often.
- Lower the heat after 10 minutes and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.
- At this point the okra should be cooked and can be removed from the stove. Set aside in a bowl but do not cover
- Add another tbsp of coconut oil to the pan and allow it to melt.
- Add the sliced onions and cook until soft.
- Now you can add the chopped tomatoes to cook together with the onions for 3 minutes.
- Add the za’atar mix and salt to the pan and cook for 3-5 minutes. The salt will release moisture from the tomatoes and you want to cook this and let it evaporate before adding the okra back to the pan.
- Add okra to the pan and cook for another 3 minutes. It will be thick but not slimy. Serve with rice.