Sometimes simpler is better. At least that’s what I kept telling myself as I was preparing this dish, which is officially called “Kentucky-style okra, corn and tomato stew.” It’s from a Cook’s Country book called America’s Best Lost Recipes which, as you can probably imagine, is about recipes that people lost and then somehow found again. Most of these recipes were lost for longer than say a day or two meaning that they are now pretty old. So the first thing I noticed (aside from the abundance of desserts–it appears that people don’t really lose dinner recipes or perhaps they just don’t care to find them again) is that many are entirely lacking in flavorings beyond your basic salt and pepper. This seems to be the way many people in the U.S. cooked for much of the past century. I know that my grandmothers’ recipes are this way–you are lucky to find one that contains a clove of garlic or an onion, much less, god forbid, something as exotic as a tea spoon of oregano. Often, I treat such recipes like coloring books, filling out the bland, blank spaces where the flavorings should be with dashes of cumin, dots of chipotle chilies and shadings of sofrito. With this recipe, I was tempted to follow this route until I read the recipe’s introduction: The dish was passed down from a woman a ran a reservation-only restaurant out of her home in Jeffersontown, Kentucky. It was one of her most requested recipes and also a family favorite.When her great nephew finally learned to make it, he was shocked that “such fullness of flavor could come from such simple ingredients–no onions, no garlic, no spices–just okra, corn, tomatoes and some salt and pepper.” More than most people, I am a sucker for a good story or a bad one or even just the hint of one. What would that have been like? Running a reservation-only restaurant out of your home in a small Kentucky town? For once, I decided to let my stupid imagination flavor the dish and, instead of adding cumin or stirring in onions, I just followed the directions. The results were delicious, although I have to admit, I still maintain that the dish would benefit from a sauteed onion and maybe a little bacon. (Although certainly less healthy, it would probably be delicious to replace the butter or oil with bacon drippings.) But the technique for de-sliming okra was priceless (i.e. sautee it in cornmeal). And the combination of okra, corn and tomatoes was light, healthy and perfect for summer.
Slime-free okra with summer vegetables
Adapted almost not at all from America’s Best Lost Recipes cook book
Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish, 4 as a vegetarian main dish
4 ears of corn
2 cups okra. Trim the ends and cut them into 1/2 inch rounds.
2 table spoons corn meal (fine or medium grind–stone or coarse-ground cornmeal will be too gritty)
2 table spoons butter (or oil or bacon drippings..)
4 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped (To be completely honest, I used a combination of canned and fresh because I did not have enough fresh and it came out fine. If you can’t get good fresh tomatoes, it might be better to use canned.)
1 cup water
salt and pepper
Cut the kernels off the corn cobs, then hold the cobs over the cut kernels and scrape the cobs with a butter knife to remove the milk and pulp.
Toss the okra with the cornmeal in a small dish. Melt the butter or heat the oil until it shimmers. Make sure you use a very large skillet, preferably a 12-inch, because 4 pounds of tomatoes take up a lot of space. Saute the okra in the butter or oil, leaving behind any excess cornmeal in the dish. Once the okra is golden brown, stir in the corn, tomatoes, water and half a tsp of salt. Bring to a simmer then cook, uncovered, for about 1 hour, until the water has evaporated, leaving behind a thick sauce. Season with more salt and A LOT of pepper, preferably fresh ground.