After our Building A Better Pantry series on dairy products, I thought it fitting to expound upon the cheese plate. Even if you don't care to make cheese of your own, I'm sure most of you still...
It's hard to complain about okra. But its virtues--prolific growth and sauce-thickening ooze-- can create resentment. The plants just won't quit producing, and in such quantities! Many busy gardeners end up letting their okra go to seed because they simply can't keep up with picking it or find a place to fit so much okra into their diet. Gumbo is amazing stuff, stewed okra can be marvelous, Megan's corn-okra fritters are to die for, and no one can turn down a perfectly crisp, crunchy batch of fried okra. The younger, more tender pods are great raw, though they ooze when cut (there is a way around this: dry-toasting okra slices in a skillet for about a minute a side... but it's a little time-consuming). These options, however, never seem to be enough.
However, there is a way to simultaneously head off your okra harvest at the pass and preserve it for winter noshing, when the summery flavor of okra will be greatly appreciated. Consider the pickle. Okra pickles retain a nice texture and flavor for months. They can break up the monotony of rich autumn and winter food, and they make a fabulous stand-in for the usual cornichons on a charcuterie plate. We like them spicy, but they're equally good with a "bread n' butter" approach. Now, if I could just learn not to eat a whole jar in a couple sittings...
The following recipe is adapted from the 2006 JOY's Quick Dill Pickle recipe, and to fit my garlic- and heat-loving palate. Feel free to just substitute pickling spice (usually a combination of mustard seed, bay leaf, black peppercorns, cloves, and allspice).
These are best enjoyed within a few months. Select the freshest okra available, about the size of a large pinky finger. If pickling cannot be started within 24 hours of harvest, refrigerate the okra and use as soon as possible. Feel free to improvise with the seasonings, but do not improvise with the brine ratio.
1 ½ to 2 pounds small, whole okra pods, stem-end trimmed (be sure to leave the pod itself intact)
Pack into pint-size jars that have been sterilized in boiling water for 10 minutes (place the lids and rings in a bowl and sanitize with some of this water after finishing up the jars). Arrange the okra pods so that they are standing up. If you have closer to 2 pounds, try packing a layer with the stem-ends facing the bottom of the jar, and then a layer with the stems facing the top. Combine in a saucepan and bring just to a boil, stirring until the salt is dissolved:
3 cups cider vinegar
3 cups water
1/3 cup pickling or canning salt
2 teaspoons dill seeds
Place in each jar:
1 or 2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 small hot chile, seeded
a few whole black peppercorns
Add the hot vinegar solution, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars, rings, and lids with a clean towel and close up the jars, twisting the rings on until finger-tight (remember that air needs to escape from the jars for them to properly seal). Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the jars to the water bath, making sure they are submerged by 1 or 2 inches of water. Process for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the jars from the boiling water and leave them out to cool, undisturbed. Within a few minutes, you should hear them start to seal. Some may take an hour or more to properly seal, so do not despair if you don’t hear that satisfying “clink” immediately. If for some reason a few of them don’t seal, just return them to the boiling water for another 15 minutes. We store all jars with the rings off, just so that there is no ambiguity if a lid loses its seal. Obviously, do not eat any canned or pickled good that has lost its seal.