Serendipitous Okra Spaghetti with Mussels

This is a story of how I came to love okra.
I’d eaten it only once, one bite, 30 years ago: it was a very slimy vegetable, suited to aliens and not for human consumption.

The other morning, J. (Mr. Tess) was listening to our local public radio station; he came running in to ask if I’d been listening. I was doing what I do best lately: sleeping!
Oh but I love mussels;  it was a delicious idea for dinner! Here is the spark of inspiration:

Mussels can cling to rocky shores with an iron grip, and a new study suggests that’s thanks to a special arrangement of protein and metal ions in their bushy “beards.”
These “beards,” which are removed by cooks before mussels become a tasty treat, are made of 50 to 100 individual fibers, known as byssal threads. The threads anchor mussels onto rocks that repeatedly get hit by crashing waves — and to do that, scientists knew the threads had to be simultaneously hard and stretchy

link to the NPR story about mussel beards 5 Mar 10

Though J had mentioned making mussels for dinner—they are his specialty—he spent most of the day sitting with my dad in the nursing home. So I went to the store to pick up something for dinner.

One doesn’t necessarily recognize a moment of serendipity. As I passed the corner of vegetable department a package of okra jumped into my cart—they looked so fresh and green. And hairy. I remembered my okra experience and wanted to put them back. I wasn’t sure if a slimy hairy vegetable would be good, but taro roots turned out to be nice! Plus, I’d just randomly found a recipe online for a new and different wafu spaghetti. What could be bad if you put it on spaghetti! Of course I couldn’t remember what else was in the recipe, but the sweet red peppers looked good next to the bright green. And I had a package of tofu waiting to be used. Green, white and red looked like a tasty color scheme.

When I got home, the tofu was bad—trust me, it is easy to identify tofu which has crossed the boundary of civil society. In this cooking adventure, J came home with a bag of mussels. And a package of mushrooms!


  • 1 pound mussels
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 small onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • pinch of crushed dried oregono
  • handful of chopped parsley

Put the mussels into a large bowl and cover with cold water. Swish them around. Scrub with a stiff brush to remove any barnacles, sand or grit. Remove the beards with a forceful tug, or cut them off with a small sharp knife. Rinse the mussels several times but do not let them sit in water, as freshwater will kill them. Do not keep them more than a few hours after washing.
Discard shells that are open or broken and that do not close when tapped.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and then add the chopped garlic and onion. Cook for a few minutes on a medium heat until the onions soften.
Pour the white wine into the saucepan, add the oregono, and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally.
Add some of the parsley. Add the mussels and cover the pan with a lid. Cook the mussels on a high heat for several minutes, gently shaking the bottom of the pan several times during cooking to redistribute the mussels.
If possible, remove the mussels as they open, placing them into a bowl and set to one side.
Reserve the cooking liquid. Discard any mussels that have remained tightly shut.

He cooked the mushrooms to their quintessential essence as usual. I’ll persuade him to write a step-by-step description—his mushrooms: WOW! But I suspect it is like pie crust: even with the perfect recipe I never succeed.

And here is the pleasant surprise: through serendipity and an open mind, okra has become my new favorite vegetable!

Wafu Spaghetti with Okra and Mussels
for 2

  • 14 fresh okra pods
  • 1 Ancient Sweets™ red pepper (or a small red pepper)
  • 2 Tablespoons black sesame seeds
  • pinch of salt
  • 8 to 10 ounces of spaghetti

Drop the okra pods into a saucepan of boiling water and let them cook for a minute or two. They will become even greener, almost glowing! Drain and plunge into cold water. Dry with paper towel. Slice into ¼” thick slices. Discard the stems.
Roast the red pepper over a gas burner to char the skin. Remove charred skin. Cut into ½ ” pieces.
Toast the sesame seeds. Note that cute little pan with the screen to prevent the seeds from popping away! In a suribachi, crush the seeds with a pinch of salt to to release their flavor. Don’t grind them to a paste!
Cook the pasta al denté (I think authentic Japanese spaghetti is cooked a bit softer).

Husband should be getting the mussels into the pan to steam while pasta cooks.
Drain pasta and pour the juice from the mussels over.
I served this meal your-choice-style with the topping in separate bowls.

I learned after making this dish that some people rub the pods with coarse salt to remove the fur, but I don’t think it’s necessary with young fresh pods.
I like capellini or angel hair pasta because while the sauce flavors the noodles, it leaves enough behind to slurp when you finish.
A tip for eating mussels: use half an shell to scrape the meat from the other half. And don’t forget to spoon up some sauce with it!
If you don’t make this spaghetti with mussels, use kakejiru, broth for hot noodles,  tsukejiru, cold noodle dipping sauce, or even the sauce for hiyashi chuka soba!

15 thoughts on “Serendipitous Okra Spaghetti with Mussels

  1. Looks tasty! Here in Georgia, the only way you ever see okra prepared is as ‘fried okra’ (Which is delicious! And not slimy), or maybe in the occasional gumbo. This sounds pretty interesting.

    • Wow. That’s got to be the fastest first comment I’ve ever gotten on a post. LOL!

      A friend of mine has family in North Carolina, and she likes deep-fried okra. I’ll have to try it sometime. It’s funny because she hates grits and I love them!

      I think my first okra experience was a gumbo made by housemates shortly after college. They may have used too much. Or maybe cooked it too long. So this is a pleasant surprise.

  2. Finally a good use for beards! Not that they’re not useful to their owns in a warming sort of way. But imagine having a beard that could grab hold of things!! Not that I’m after a beard for myself – and if I ever start to sport one I trust my family will tell me…If there was any little extra I could have “if wishes were fishes” etc it would be a tail. Imagine swishing it, wagging it when you were happy.
    On okra I’ve always been a wimp in the okra department – ditto natto. But maybe, just maybe having seen this post…

    • The little extra I’d like is a purrr. It would be lovely to express happiness so simply and directly! Well, that is much like tail wagging…

      I don’t even want to think about a beard grabbing hold of anything (except with mussels!). When I first met J he had a beard, and that is when I fell in love, but, well, when he shaved it off —he’s so nice.

      On okra, do give it a try!! I really found it disgusting years ago, but the okra I bought now was very small and tender. Just blanching it quickly made it great. It tasted fresh sort of like young green beans, but with a slight tongue tingle. Not slimy, but interesting. Might not be the same if the pods are older. I’m willing to experiment again though.

      I have not yet tried natto. We will see. sometime…
      gosh, how bad can it be?

      • I missed your earlier okra post, and am ashamed. Am hanging my head, but I love mussles, too.
        We used to gather them in Maine and those were the best I’ve ever eaten, fresh out of the sea.
        Mister Marcia has a beard. He grew it after we were married because he looked very young. He promised me that he’d shave it off if it turned gray. He lied.

        • Yum! mussels fresh out of the sea. We have live ones in fish departments (even so, they are only ok), and frozen. Never tried the frozen ready to eat…

          The best mussels I’ve ever had was in Normandy, on D-day celebration (55). The family we visited took us to a tiny restaurant on the shore: it had no sign, but locals knew it was there.
          A m a z i n g !

          Re: the beard
          The year of the moustache was the worst. Too prickly. The beard/moustache combo was ok. Odd, isn’t it?

          • Oh, I do envy you the Normandy mussles, not to mention the trip. That was an event.

            My husband looks funny with just a moustache, as we found when he was shaving for a job interview at a conservative company many moons ago. He keeps his beard well trimmed, and it’s never bothered me.
            It is odd about just the moustache being being prickly, but one cannot predict about these things.

            • Marcia,
              Yes, one can’t predict about how ‘just the moustache’ will be. Could be age: his or mine. :P

              Sorry. I’m just realizing that I did not answer your last email: The days (daze??) are blurring together. Dad is in a nice nursing home, but things remain undecided. A meeting tomorrow looking toward the future…

              Many thanks for your friendship!

              • Tess, you did answer my last e-mail unless I’ve forgotten something, which is always possible these days.

                Good wishes for the meeting about your dad. I’m glad to hear that he’s in a nice facilty. There ARE nice nursing homes, but one has to search.

                I think of you often at this difficult time. An okra obsession is as good a way as any to deal with things. :) The pictures in your lastest post make that humble vegetable a thing of beauty.

  3. nonono, I will never get used to eating okra’s. That snorty gooey stuff just doesnt seem right :P
    Combine that with natto topped with a raw egg (some recipe I saw online a while ago) and you got food that crawls by itself!

    • I know what you mean. I was shocked that it turns out I like okra. LOL…

      Natto is something I’m working up to. I’ve seen variations of that recipe that include grated nagaimo or yamaimo as well. yum???

  4. Pingback: Cheese Grits, Japanese Style? « Tess's Japanese Kitchen

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