Slow Food Board member and okra enthusiast, Chris Smith, has been inspiring us with his okra adventures for at least the past year. We are delighted that his upcoming book, In Defense of Okra, will be published by Chelsea Green Publishing in the spring of 2019! While we wait to read the book in its entirety, we are finding other ways to follow in Chris’s path of veggie exploration.
In his research, Chris has found that okra seeds can be milled into flour and used to fortify bread. Okra seeds are high in protein and contain gluten, two qualities that are desirable in bread baking. The vegetable seeds also offer other health benefits, such as acting as a probiotic and helping to stabilize blood sugar. Considering how easy this crop is to grow, as well as its ability to enhance the nutritional qualities of cereal grains, it holds great promise for large-scale food production as well as small-scale kitchen experiments.
As a professional baker, I was excited when Cris offered to give me some okra seeds to play with in the kitchen. My own experiments began with the seeds themselves. When I tried to grind them raw I found them nearly impenetrable. After toasting them for about 15 minutes, they ground much easier. At home I used a food processor and later, at the bakery, I used a small-scale grain mill. Both tools worked well. (Their dark color gave me trouble in one batch, however, when I accidentally over-toasted them, leading to a burnt popcorn flavor.)
Once I got the toasting time right, and had flour to use, I began developing recipes. (Spoiler alert: No recipes will be included in this blog post! They need a few more rounds of testing, but next year if you read Chris’s book you will be able to find them there, hopefully, along with some okra seeds to recreate them!)
For the first recipe, I made savory muffins, which included okra seed flour, cornmeal, all-purpose flour, sharp cheddar cheese and red pepper flakes. Like other quick breads, these muffins came together easily and required very little time in the kitchen. Even more importantly, they tasted delicious! The okra flour and cornmeal complimented each other well, offering a savory vegetal flavor with some toasty sweetness from the corn. The crumb was moist and soft. I ate one warm and immediately had to eat a second one!
Next, I decided to make a sourdough okra seed bread. Again, I had success on my first round, a testament indeed to this fine ingredient. I mixed a bread that was 20% okra seed flour, with about ⅔ of that finely milled and ⅓ coarsely milled. As a lover of whole grains, I also included 20% whole wheat bread flour and 10% cornmeal grits.
As you can see from the above image, the dough had a lovely rich color, speckled with cornmeal and okra seeds pigments. I found the dough easy to work with, stretching nicely and maintaining nice form during the pre- and final-shaping.
After shaping the two loaves, I put them in the refrigerator to ferment overnight.
The next day, we baked the loaves in OWL Bakery’s oven, a professional bread oven that contains stone decks and climbs to temperatures over 500 degrees.
The best part? Cutting into the loaves and tasting them! Like the muffins, this bread had a slightly savory flavor, reminiscent of okra, but with more depth. One wouldn’t necessarily know the secret ingredient without being told beforehand. The coarsely ground seeds added an interesting texture, but it remained a soft crumb with a crunchy exterior. All the bakers who tried it loved it, as did our customers who got free samples!
It is safe to say that I am now an okra seed flour fan. If I had access to more of it, I could easily become a fanatic! I hope Chris’s work will help to make that possible.