Slender, elegantly formed okra pods in green and deep burgundy arrive in droves at my greenmarket around August. Nicknamed “ladies’ fingers”—though with their pointy tips, they are more like fingernails of some Amazonian Cruella De Vil—the quick-growing vegetable is well-loved by Middle Eastern Jews, who often serve it for the fall holidays, generally stewed slowly with meat or other vegetables and flavored with tomato. But I confess that with all the bad press about its potentially mucilaginous, seedy innards and slimy texture, okra intimidated me. I never prepared it myself.
Then when I was in Los Angeles one fall, I listened to a radio program broadcast from the fabulous Santa Monica farmers’ market, featuring the pick of the day’s produce. The speaker mentioned that okra is wonderful simply and quickly oven-roasted—my usual method for preparing asparagus.
Back home for Rosh Hashanah, I oven-roasted my local beauties, then dusted them with fragrant Middle Eastern za’atar. They, are so easy to prepare this way. I enjoy them often now, whenever I find young and fresh ones in the market.
Preheat the oven to 475°F.
Arrange the okra in a single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Shake the pan until the okra is coated with the oil on all sides. Roast, shaking the pan once or twice to turn the pods, for 12 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the pods, until the okra is streaked golden-brown and just tender. Sprinkle generously with za’atar to taste, and serve with lemon quarters.
© 2008 Jayne Cohen. All rights reserved.