I’ve spent a lot of time with okra during the past couple of weeks. At this point, we know each other pretty well. After stewing, roasting, and frying it I can say with full confidence my favorite way to cook okra is to slice the pods in half and sear them in hot olive oil till caramelized and crispy. I could eat a plate of crispy okra simply seasoned with sea salt as an appetizer, and to be honest it’s tempting to pluck the hot pods from the skillet and gobble them up before they reach the plate. Crispy okra lends a nice texture to rice dishes, and this earthy vegetable pairs well with fragrant jasmine rice. Reading the September issue of Food and Wine Magazine, I came across a genius recipe for Butternut Squash Basmati Rice in the article, “A Lesson in Indian Flavors.” Asha Gomez tosses diced squash into her rice, killing two birds with one stone by cooking the rice and steaming the squash in one pot. This was a revelation for me, a new way to make my rice dishes more interesting and flavorful. I used the technique with diced sweet potato for a creamier, richer, sweeter flavor to pair with the fluffy popcorn-scented rice. The Spiced Rice with Sweet Potatoes and Crispy Okra recipe was developed for The Louisiana Project, so I reached for Creole spices to toss in the pot, but you could use a teaspoon (or more) or your favorite Curry, Moroccan spice blend, or Za’atar seasoning.
Spiced Rice with Sweet Potatoes and Crispy Okra
- Vegetable oil
- 1 sweet potato, cut into ¼ inch cubes (about 3 cups)
- 1 cup jasmine rice
- 1 teaspoon Creole spice
- ½ pound fresh whole okra pods
- 1 small fresh hot red chili
- 2 green onions
Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a medium pot. Add the diced sweet potato and cook to soften and caramelize, stirring occasionally. After 2 minutes, pour in 1 ½ cups water and bring to a boil. Rinse the rice and add it to the pot along with the Creole spices. Return to a boil and cover with the lid, then turn the heat down to medium low and simmer the rice and sweet potatoes for 16 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it stand, covered, for 10 minutes to steam the rice.
Prepare the garnishes. Slice the red chili into thin rings, or mince it, as you like it. Thinly slice the green onions, both white and light green parts.
Cook the okra. Trim the okra pods and halve them lengthwise. Pour enough vegetable oil in a large skillet to cover the bottom and turn the heat on to medium high. Once the oil is hot, place the okra pieces in the pan, cut side down. Cook for about two minutes, until caramelized golden brown, then turn the pieces and cook through, another 1-2 minutes. Season the crispy okra with a couple pinches of salt and set it aside.
When the rice is ready, fluff it with a fork and taste and adjust the seasoning. Add more Creole spices or salt if needed. Spoon the sweet potatoes and rice onto a platter. Top with the okra, red chili, and green onions. Serve immediately.