Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Heather Kenney from Houston, TX

My boyfriend was kind of confused when I told him that I was nervous about writing a guest post for Sarah's blog. And his confusion was warranted: I'm not sure I know anyone who obsesses about all things eating-related as much as I do. I scour restaurant reviews before trying someplace new, and one of my proudest moments was when I learned how to break down a whole chicken. Even further, I insist on making pumpkin pie using an actual pumpkin and I make my own peanut butter. I have a meal-planning spreadsheet, for heaven's sake! So, yes: I am obsessed with eating and eating well, at that. The problem is that I'm not exactly concerned with eating local (um, don't tell Sarah).

"But we do eat local: we do all our food shopping and eating out in Houston," was my boyfriend's response to my anxiety attacks.

At first, I just laughed and dismissed his smart-ass comment. But then, I started thinking that there was some truth behind his statement: eating locally doesn't necessarily mean shopping at farmers' markets and co-ops or joining a CSA (although those are certainly great options). The real spirit of eating local is to take advantage of the ingredients that are available in your area, and you can do that right from your grocery store shelves.

I lived in the Northeast for 26 years and took it for granted that all grocery stores are the same: meat section, bakery section, canned goods, dried goods, and produce. Heck, with the way our food travels now, even produce sections look pretty much the same. But last year I moved to Houston, Texas, and my mind was blown when I discovered that they actually have different produce here. Specifically: they have okra. If you've lived in the south, you probably wouldn't understand, but to a northern girl like me okra is something magical and rare. I don't think I had actually seen an actual fresh, okra pod before in my life. In elementary school, I kept a dried okra pod on my desk because I thought it was so crazy and unusual. Actual edible okra was only sometimes found on barbecue-themed menus, and then it was only available chopped and fried. But in Texas, there are mountains of fresh okra in the produce aisle. And it's crazy cheap, too, because it's grown nearby. And I am seriously in love with it.

A lot of people have a problem with okra because it has a reputation for being slimy. Although this slime is central to many a New Orleans dish (gumbo, anyone?), I can appreciate that, in general, slime may not be the most appealing characteristic in a food. To those people who avoid okra, I would beg you to reconsider. If you toss it whole on a baking sheet, drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and roast it at a really high temperature, you will be too busy burning your mouth on the resulting product to remember the slime...or much else. In fact, now that I think about it, I have been too busy eating roasted okra straight off of the baking sheet--and maybe burning my mouth--to notice that I happened to be eating local, too.

Roasted Okra
1 lb okra
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

  1. Drizzle the okra with olive oil and then season with salt and pepper to taste. 
  2. Roast in a 425 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until okra is lightly browned and crispy looking.

Roasted Okra Salad
I discovered that my roasted local okra becomes even more delicious when combined with a handful of other local ingredients. Just toss all the ingredients together in a large bowl and serve. This salad is delicious both warm and cold, and it makes a great side to heavier Texas-beloved entrees like barbecue or chicken fried steak. (But I won't tell anyone if you just eat it straight from the bowl.)

Roasted okra (see above)
1/2 - 3/4 cup chopped cilantro (another Texas discovery!)
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 cooked ear of corn (roasted or boiled: your call)
1/2 cup of your favorite salsa
Salt to taste

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