OK, I think I did it. Made an edible okra pie. Will it replace the classic apple pie, the sweet and gooey blueberry or the unending variety of cream pies? No. But if you want to try something completely different and you're an adventurous soul, here's what you do.
First, let's remember that it's the middle of January in the midwest so my access to fresh okra was difficult at first. However plenty of frozen to go around. Actually two kinds of frozen for our purposes. Precut and whole. When I first started out on this project, I thought the precut okra would work great. That was a big no go. Too much chewy okra texture and general bad mouth feel. So I switched to the whole okra and cut it to the size I thought would work best. Since I'm working a nine inch pie, I decided to use two one pound bags of whole okra. Two thirds of this I sliced really thin (while still mostly frozen, cuts better) and the remaining third I cut about a half inch thick.
Why do this? Well the thin slices break down a little bit and make better pie filling and the larger pieces still give the filling the okra texture. So once you've cut up your okra we need to make it just a little less okrery. Put the thin sliced okra in a pan and add enough water to cover. Bring it to a boil. Once it has reached boiling, lower the heat to a simmer. Add the juice of one lemon and let simmer for a couple minutes. Now add 3/4 cup brown sugar and stir to mix. Taste the mixture. You may like it sweeter or more tart according to your taste. Now stir in the remaining thicker slices of okra. Remove from heat and set aside.
Toast 2 cups of pecans halves for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Once toasted and cool enough to handle, roughly chop the nuts and add them to the okra mixture. Add the zest of one lemon and 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and mix well. Pour the mixture into the pie crust.
As I said in my original Facebook posting, I mentioned a cornmeal crust. None of my numerous pie cookbooks had a recipe I really liked so I resorted to Epicurious, my favorite go to site for fairly decent online recipes. They had just the pie crust I was looking for. They used it for a Apple Cranberry Pie and the only change I made was to leave out the pumpkin pie spice and use an entire top crust, not the leaf cutouts they prepared. Next time I might cut back on the salt. I will be making this crust again, it's almost like a cornmeal shortbread crust but very rustic. It would make a great crust for savory pie. I brushed the top of the pie with some buttermilk and sprinkled a little bit of very fine granulated sugar (caster sugar) on the top. Popped it into a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes with aluminum foil strips protecting the edges of the pie. Then another 15 minutes or so without the foil so the top crust can get nicely browned but not burned.
It's not a very pretty pie but I really kinda like the flavors none the less. Boiling away some of that strong okra flavor and then matching with what's left with the hard to beat combo of brown sugar and lemon is fun. What we haven't talked about is the slime, or the snot of the vegetable world as it's generally known. Virginia and I actually corresponded a little bit about developing this recipe and her suggestions on eliminating okra's slickness were valid but I wanted to bend it to my will, not make it disappear all together. By boiling the okra first, adding acidity (the lemon), and then binding the results (the cornstarch) I got a filling that holds together without being gummy or slimy. Earlier experiments involved many more spices to pair with the okra, namely a mild sweet curry however if there's one thing I've learned from watching many people cook food and developing my own cooking style, simple is better. The curry was one step too far. I'm much happier with the what finally developed.
So why do this? Why make a pie out of vegetable that a majority of people hate with a passion? Well there's the whole challenge of it. Think of it as a puzzle game, what fits best with what. Also knowing that you have the flexibility to create something from very little available. When I was doing the research for this project I read a very interesting passage from the Little House Cookbook. Barbara Walker wrote a wonderful book on the foods and cooking methods she believes were used during the frontier time period that was the setting of the Little House on the Prairie series. In the book, The Long Winter, Laura's mother makes a pie out of the only thing she currently had available , green pumpkin. Her ingenuity and cleverness provided a much welcomed treat when normal pie fillings were nowhere in sight. I like knowing that I can do that. The culinary sky's the limit if you can make a good tasting okra pie. You just never know where it will lead.