08 June 2016

Rainy day activities

What do you do indoors when it rains more or less steadily for a week? Well, you have to entertain yourself, and try to be productive. Computers are good for entertainment, but a lot of them time you spend surfing or searching doesn't really pay off.

Fresh okra pods
Luckily, on one of the recent less rainy days, we drove up to Blois for lunch and to do some shopping. I bought a lot of vegetables: bell peppers of different colors, Italian flat green beans, sweet potatoes, and okra. Okra goes by the name gombo in French, and that's where we get the Louisiana dish called gumbo. It's a seafood stew that is thickened in part by cooked okra. Okra is also good cooked in a rice pilaf, or in Brunswick stew, and many other ways. See these old blog posts of mine.

Stem ends trimmed
Since I bought about three pounds of fresh okra, I had to figure out a way to process it for cooking over the next few weeks and months. You can make pickled okra, or you can freeze the okra pods. I decided on freezing, because our big chest freezer isn't at all full right now. If I could buy fresh or frozen okra in our local Saint-Aignan supermarkets, or at  the weekly outdoor markets around here, I probably wouldn't go to all this trouble. But I can't, so I do.

Blanching in boiling water
The key to freezing vegetables like okra, green beans, Brussels sprounts, and so many others is, of course, blanching them first in boiling water, and then freezing them on trays in the summer so that each pod or bean is frozen separately. That way, you can use as many as you want when you take them out of the freezer to cook them and not have to thaw out a big block of the vegetables that would be more than you need or want at that moment.

Taking a cold bath
Blanch the fresh okra pods for three to five minutes in boiling water, after trimming the stem end off each one. As soon as they're just slightly cooked, scoop them out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon (écumoire) and plunge them into a large quantity of cold water — ice water is good — to cool them down quickly. The photos here show the different stages in the process.

Arranged on trays for the freezer
Arrange the blanched okra pods (or beans or sprouts) on trays that will fit inside your freezer. Try not to let them be in contact with each other. Putting them on a silicon pad or a sheet of parchment paper (papier de cuisson) is a good idea. Set the tray or trays in the freezer and leave them for as long as 24 hours.

Frozen and separate
Once the vegetable pieces are hard-frozen, you can put them in plastic bags or containers, sealed up tight, and store them in the freezer long-term. And you can take out just the quantity you need when you want to cook and eat some. Do the same thing with sliced and blanched bell peppers, zucchini — any vegetable, really. When we have big crops of vegetables from our garden, we often use this method to preserve them.


  1. I love gumbo ( My grandfather was a chef and he made it just for me ) but being raised in North Carolina, I learned to love Fried Okra. I am back in the South now and waiting for my first in a long time taste of authentic fried Okra :)

    1. I think frying doesn't really do justice to the taste and texture of okra, but it can be good in a bland kind of way. I hope you find some that is really good down there in Fla.

  2. Oh boy! I know you love your okra!

  3. Okra(s) or gombos are either African or South Asian in origin. We always ate them when I was growing up in North Carolina, though like other vegetables (collards, etc.) they weren't always appreciated by children. In Paris in 1975, when I was a student at the Sorbonne, one of my fellow students was a woman from Thessaloniki, in Greece. At Christmas, she went home, and when she came back she brought two foods that her mother had made. One was stuffed cabbage leaves, with ground beef, rice, and a lot of lemon juice. The other was what she called bamiès, or okra, cooked with onions and also a lot of lemon juice. Both were delicious. That's when I realized that okra wasn't just a Southern thing. Okra and tomatoes is a Southern classic. Louisiana gumbo too, of course. I'm less a fan of fried okra, which is often, I think, tasteless.

  4. I am going to go through all my cookbooks and see if I can find a gumbo recipe that I might be able to do .. I love soups for dinner so gumbo would be perfect. besitos. C

  5. The only okra I've ever had was nasty, gummy stuff, probably in a prepared soup, and long ago. I like your enthusiasm for it, so I'll try some and try to do it justice.
    You mentioned those silicon baking sheets some time back, and I bought a couple. They are wonderful, so thank you for that, too.

    1. Okra, like beets, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, or cooked carrots, are not to everyone's taste. You can easily find frozen okra where you live.


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