Sometimes everything just comes together perfectly. Take this dish, for example. We modified it from the recipe in The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, by Matt Lee and Ted Lee. The week we’d it checked out of the library, we also happened to get a bunch of okra and three ears of corn in our weekly CSA share. If that weren’t enough, we had almost exactly two pounds of frozen tomatoes (the precise amount called for in the original recipe) left from the flat of CSA tomatoes we picked up last month. I think the Fates were just daring us to make this dish.
We did. And, we can tell you that we’re glad we did! But, before we get into how it turned out, we have to let you know that if you’re planning to make the Pan-Roasted Okra, Corn, and Tomatoes, you’ll need a large cast-iron skillet for the roasting part. But, perhaps, just perhaps, you might be able to get by with the judicious use of the broiler or a grill, although the corn might be a little tricky.
Serves 3-4 as a main, 6-8 as sides.
This uses all of what we have begun calling the summer triangle: corn, okra, and tomatoes. So named because each is a star in its own right, and together they make up a constellation of flavors. So, if possible, use fresh vegetables. Now, we did have to use frozen tomatoes, but they were tomatoes that were fully ripe and bursting with flavor when we popped them into the freezer, but, if we had fresh, we would definitely have gone that route. You might not think the vinegar is needed in this dish, but it is. It improves the flavors in a subtle way, making this go from a mish-mash of flavors to something outstanding. Finally, we suggest using extra-virgin olive oil, primarily because it’s an oil we always have on hand. It doesn’t impart any flavor (olive oil loses its flavor during cooking), so, if you want or need to substitute another mild oil, it’ll work just fine.
Procedure in detail:
Toss okra in oil. In a bowl, toss the okra with about a tablespoon of oil, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt, and toss again.
Heat skillet, then oil. Here’s where a cast-iron pan is essential; you want that skillet really hot. We heated ours on medium-high for a good ten minutes, pretty much until it started to smoke just a bit. Any hotter and we would have stripped off the seasoning. Once hot, toss in a splash of oil and swish it around. If you’re brave, you might try using a paper towel to spread it out. We weren’t brave.
Char okra. Working with half the okra at a time, char it by placing it in a single layer in the pan and cooking it for about 3-4 minutes before turning. Yes, it will smoke, but not too much. If you think you have an excessive amount of smoke, back off on the heat.
Set okra aside. Once the okra is charred, put it in a bowl and set it aside while you work on the other ingredients. We tried a small bite of okra at this stage. Quite good!
Toss corn in oil. Just like the okra, toss the corn kernels with a tablespoon of oil, sprinkle with a 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and toss again.
Char corn. Add the corn to the hot empty skillet. Listen to it sizzle, and cook it for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring about every three minutes or so. You want to char the corn, just like you charred the okra.
Set corn aside. Once charred and cooked, transfer the corn from the skillet to the bowl with the okra. Feel free to try a corn kernel, too.
Sauté onions. Add a tablespoon of oil to the skillet, swish it around, and add the onions and garlic. Don’t char these, as the garlic will taste bitter; instead, stir them around continuously, until they are translucent and tender, about 3 minutes.
Add tomatoes. Place the tomatoes in the pan, cut side down, and let cook, stirring just a bit until the tomatoes collapse, about 5 minutes. If, like us, you used frozen tomatoes, they’ll release a lot of juice. We aren’t so sure that fresh would be better.
Add corn and okra. Return the corn and okra to the pan. These have been cooked, so just warm them in the bubbling sauce until they’re heated through, about 3 minutes.
Taste and season. Now, give it a taste, add a bit more kosher salt if needed, and bit of pepper, and the vinegar. Taste again, and adjust. If you’re using smoked paprika, add it now.
Serve immediately. We just dished this up in bowls and went to town.
We have to say right up front that the Pan-Roasted Okra, Corn, and Tomatoes is a five-star dish. When those Lee Bros. get a recipe right, it is awesome and well worth trying. Of course, this one had the help of some of the best-tasting vegetables on the planet, so it’s not as if it would taste bad. Plus, the charring gave this dish a slightly smoky flavor that seems right at home with okra and corn. A few things that we’d recommend: drain the tomatoes if you’re using frozen (or canned), serve the dish with rice, and, even though it might be more trouble, consider roasting everything on the grill (cut the kernels off the cob after roasting, and roast the fresh tomatoes very briefly so they don’t fall through), and just combine everything in individual bowls. Of course, with the addition of that real wood smoke, we might just end up with our first recipe worthy of six stars!