Wednesday, May 17, 2006

In the Thick of It – Okra Leaves

It’s usually a bad idea to use an untested recipe when cooking for others. Sometimes they have misprints, or subtle steps that require a little getting used to. Sometimes they are just bad recipes, resulting in bad food.

An even worse idea is to cook something you’ve never heard of before, never seen before, and don’t really understand, using a new recipe, that you have of course changed because, well, you’re just that inspired (or stupid?). Now there’s a recipe for disaster!

But hey. You only live once! And if you don’t try, you never learn!

So I was thinking about how to cook up the okra leaves we had bought last weekend. As mentioned, there is almost nothing to read in English on the Internet regarding okra leaves. So I was pretty much on my own. My only hint had been given to my by a fellow shopper – who indicated that the leaves should be chopped fine and had a thickening effect. No indication of how strong an effect.

We tasted some of the leaves raw, but they were quite bland. Just a mild grassy taste. Nothing of real note.

I chopped a few up in a sort of chiffonade cut. Nothing remarkable. I expected to see that sort of milky fluid that seeps out of okra pods when you cut them. But nothing.

We were beginning to doubt that these were actually okra leaves. Till we found a few tiny okra pods hiding in the leaves.

But how to use them? Since everything about the purchase had been Asian, I was now tending that way. Plus, we (well, TeenGirl) were looking for something meatless for dinner. And we had some big eggplants that were starting to deflate in the fridge.

So I came on the idea of a sort of eggplant – chickpea Indian sort of thing. I thought I had seen some things like that on a few Indian blogs. And sure enough, on the blog there was a wonderful-looking recipe for Baingan Chole – an Eggplant Chickpea sort of thicken stew. Served with rice or chapattis.

And from the looks of the pictures – just crying for a little green to round it out. Oh such a presumptuous ego to change a perfectly good recipe, without having even tried it, with some greens that have never been tried either. A nutty idea if ever I heard one.

Well, the chole is easy enough. Because we have made a few things over the last few months, most of the spices were on hand. And I always have chickpeas on hand. So off I went. And it looked pretty good. Note that the chole uses pureed chickpeas as a thickening agent already. Had I made this before, I might have paused here. But no.

Not knowing the power of the okra greens, I removed the leaves from the stems, and chopped all the leaves in a rough chiffonade. It was A LOT of greens. We had bought one pound of greens, minus the stems still left a ton of green leaves. But I figured that like spinach, it would cook down quickly.

Well, it did cook down. First to goo. Then to glue. The okra leaves – in my opinion – have a stronger thickening effect than the okra pods. This stuff drank up chicken broth like crazy. Eventually almost doubling the volume of the stew as I tried to keep some level of moisture by adding more chicken broth. It was like some kind of ‘I Love Lucy’ episode. The more broth we added, the thicker and bigger it all got.

The resulting dish was now greenish, which is not in and of itself bad. A little unusual, maybe, but not bad. And thick thick thick thick thick. The okra leaves, like the okra pods, have a sort of slimy thickening effect. Very different from corn starch or a flour roux, for example. Similar to the effect of the pods. Some might not enjoy that effect.

But I over did it. Not knowing how to use the leaves, what proportions, etc. In retrospect, the dish would have been GREATLY improved, even good, if I had reduced the amount of leaves to just a handful or two, and possibly even left out the pureed chickpeas, letting the okra leaves be the sole thickening agent. That would have retained the character of the original dish, with some nice green highlights and a pleasant consistency.

I am sure – absolutely positive – that there are some dishes out there, waiting to be made, that currently use some sort of starch as a thickener, that would benefit tremendously from the use of okra leaves instead. Just not this one.

I’ll keep my eyes open!

The basic recipe is located here:

As mentioned, my only modification was the addition of the chopped okra leaves at the very end of the cooking, plus the additional chicken broth. My recomendation - don't change a great recipe! But try 1 to 2 handfuls of okra leaves added at the end and cooked for 10 minutes, and eliminate the pureed chickpeas from the recipe. I think that would work well.

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Anonymous Indira said...

Okra leaves? :) where did you get those?
We grow okra and cook with it almost regularly back in India and here also but I've never heard of anyone cooking with okra leaves. I've never come across a recipe with okra leaves, ever in Indian cooking. Sorry.

How was the taste? Bland, sour or like okra-the vegetable?


1:01 PM  
Blogger surfindaave said...

Indira, thanks for the comment! As mentioned, the Asian stands at the farmer's market sell this stuff by the ton. It seems to be very popular.

The leaves did not add much taste, mainly the sort of milky thickness that you typically associate with the okra pod. All in all, the dish tasted fine - it was just much too thick! But you don't learn if you don't try!

10:48 AM  
Blogger MM said...

I've never heard of okra leaves too and I am an avid okra eater/cook. It sounds a bit like file which you use to cook gumbo with? Now I am just dying of curiosity ...I might go to Little India to check if they have that there.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Shamana Flora said...

Well well, we just had stuffed okra for dinner from our garden, and i was toying with the idea of using the greens myself. Knowing of course that MOST of the plants in this plant family (malvaceae) are quite safe, edible and/or medicinal, and also usually quite slimy ( hence, okra, marshmallow, hibiscus, etc). I use the leaves of marshmallow all the time in teas, nice and soothing for sore throats, irritated tissues of any sort. SOOOOO...yes the leaves will be slimy. my suggestion. cut them up less, and cook them less. Just a flash fry in the pan to wilt them, or left mostly whole and parboiled/blanched just a bit. That might cut down on th e GLUE factor, heck...i'd even venture to add them to a raw green salad. Since I've used all sorts of wild mallow(malva) plant leaves in my spring salads. Great use of the secondary edible parts of the plant. I'm gonna try it myself!
On another note. The flowers, which i did try eating the other day while harvesting pods, are quite sweet and delicious too. Slimy tho! Heck, I'd even make a tea from the leaves/flowers for a medicinal brew for a sore throat.

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm Filipino and I use okra leaves to cook in my vegetable soup. Combination of String beans, tomato, onion, eggplant, banana shoots, and cook it in a soup base with patis or bagoong(permented fish extract) it has to be strained. Bring to a boil and lastly you add the okra leaves last and cood for about 5 min. and ready to serve. It's a vegetable soup dish I grew up with. And you just eat with rice. Okra leaves - "Saloyut" in Filipino.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Liza said...

Aha ha ha - I can relate! I am also looking for recipes for okra leaves and had a similar experience (tried stirfrying - BIG mistake)! Will definitely try some of these suggestions....

6:44 AM  
Blogger Susan said...

I am looking for a way to prepare those lush looking okra leaves in my garden. So many leaves and so few okra! I got a real chuckle out of your experience cooking them up. The Filipino vegetable soup sounds good. Maybe just a few in stir fry would be good to thicken it up. I'll experiment, but not with many!

3:56 PM  
Anonymous Charlotte said...

Those look more like basil leaves than okra leaves. Okra leaves are pointy. At least the spineless climson variety I plant and use have pointy leaves. Maybe that is another type of okra with basil-looking leaves.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Dan Culbertson said...

The leaves in the picture are actually a plant with the common names Jew's Mallow, Egyptian Spinach, Molokhiya, and "Okra Leaves" - though they are not really okra. As a member of the Mallow family they are related to okra and have the same gooey qualities. They also have small okra-like pods. Search on "Egyptian Spinach Soup" for some good recipes. A couple of species share the common names, most prevalent is Corchorus olitorius. It is known as "Jute Mallow" when used as a fiber plant. It is very easy to grow. See the article on Corchorus in Wikipedia for other species. I suspect true okra leaves could be used similarly but probably only the smallest most tender ones since the larger ones get rather tough.

6:13 AM  
Anonymous ksolo said...

have never heard of or seen these before... came across your post as i was considering adding a small amt of okra to a green chili. trying to avoid cornstarch as a thickener, and though okra might be a reasonable option. will now try to hunt down some okra leaves - sounds like those would integrate much better in a chili.


9:47 AM  
Anonymous Generic Viagra Online said...

as many other spices, this one is the secrect behind the flavor of some dishes, and this is not exception, okra leaves are used in many recipes.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Victorious Living!!! said...

Please where do you buy fresh okro leaves like the ones you got? thanks

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This type of greens is called 'rau day' in Vietnamese. A soup that is common in the North of Vietnam - can rau day - made with shrimp. See the recipe from my blog. Note that the greens are not really leaves from okra plant; it's called so because it's slimy when cooked like okra. Unless you grew up eating this, it's hard to get used to...

7:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm from Nigeria and a Mada by a tribe. Okra leave soup is one of the best local dishes you can prepare for the Mada person and he will appreciate you for it. You first of all heat the quantity of water you want for the soup, then pour the prepared okra leaves, allow to cook for like ten minutes then pour the soup ingredients, allowed to boiled for about 20 minutes.

3:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okra leaves or "molokhiah" is a popular middle eastern dish cooked chopped like soup, the Egyptian way, or full leaves, the Lebanese way. I prefer the Lebanese recipe...with garlic, cilantro and lots of lemon, on a bed of rice.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The photo is definitely NOT OKRA leaves! The photo is most likely that of Amaranth leaves which is often called a nuisance weed by various names like "pig weed". Amaranth is easy to grow and leaves can be cooked like kale or spinach.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "okra leaves" are not really okra leaves. They are Jute. This is how it is cooked in Egypt This recipe is delicious :-)

11:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been around okra alot and those in the picture do Not look like okra leaves. Just wanted to pass that on:)

5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grow a few varieties okra, I gotta tell you okra leaves look nothing like what you show in the photo. Not sure what you have there.


Also an experienced chef or cook who is working with mostly familiar ingredients can easily use a recipe for the first time with success. Just reading the recipe can tell you a lot. Even when I find a recipe that seems good but I notice flaws generally no problem making them right.
Of course if you lack experience or are using ethnic recipes you are unfamiliar with then a test run would be good.
Thank you
hope you find real okra leaves one day. Of course okra is super easy to grow. One of the easiest

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is definitely Jute as stated by two of the earlier contributors in this thread. I know because I have spent a lifetime eating them - well over 40 years - growing up in Nigeria.

6:58 PM  

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