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
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!