Pod Season at Pondicheri

Okra burritos, okra salad, and okra pickles are only the beginning.

By Robb Walsh July 23, 2013

Last Thursday night, U.L. Armstrong, a farmer from Wharton, drove to Houston with four bushels of okra, his entire week's harvest, in the back of his pick-up truck. Armstrong picks the pods while they are still tiny and tender because that's the way his one and only customer likes them. "There will be plenty of okra until the first frost," Armstong told me when I asked how long the season lasted.

After buying Armstrong's okra at a farmers market for a few weeks, Anita Jaisinghani decided to take his entire harvest for the rest of the summer. Some goes to Indika, where she is cooking dishes like an Indian shrimp and okra stew with it. And some goes to Pondicheri, where the chef is running a summer-long "Okra Special."

The special runs Sundays through Wednesdays or until the okra runs out, so don't make the mistake of asking for a okra on a Thursday, like I did. Pondicheri sells a lot of okra on "Meatless Mondays," the day the menu is all-vegetarian. There's usually plenty left on Tuesday, but by sometimes on Wednesday, the pods are all gone.

On the blackboard just inside the front door of the restaurant, you'll see a list of the okra specials of the day. The list changes often. I sampled the okra frankie, a fat Indian burrito stuffed with fried okra, onion masala, heirloom tomatoes, yogurt and chutney; the spiced okra, a bowl of fried okra with fennel and amchur (dried mango powder); and my favorite, the okra salad with corn, quinoa, greens, cashews, paneer (Indian cheese), and a caramelized onion dressing.

If you hate okra, you aren't alone. In a 1974 survey by the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans named okra as one of the three vegetables they like least. If you do like okra, odds are you love it—it's one of those extremist things. Trendy nutritionists have named the lowly okra pod a "Super Food," because it's high in fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants and a good source of calcium and potassium. One cup of okra has about 30 calories.

If you are member of the okra-loving cult, and you have a restaurant or a recipe to recommend, let us hear about it.


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