Even in East Texas, where fried okra is to the culinary landscape what George the Gator is to Peggy's on the Bayou, people simply can't tell you what okra tastes like.
My wife Tracie P, an accomplished gastronome and native of Orange, Texas (where she grew up frying her okra in Nanna's cast-iron skillet), is hard-pressed to describe the mallow's sensorial virtues.
"It just takes like okra," she'll say. "It tastes slimy."
And therein lies the rub: More often than not, when people describe the flavor of okra, they actually refer to its texture (and in doing so, they employ a literary device known as synaesthesia, whereby we use one sense to describe another; but that's another story for another day).
I didn't grow up eating okra, but I've certainly had my share since moving to Texas nearly four years ago to be with Tracie P.
On my palate, it has a certain spiciness, more gentle but reminiscent of jalapeño and mint, and, of course, its unctuous texture is a unique experience in the gastronomic spectrum.
Okra's in season right now and we've been receiving a heaping helping each week with our weekly CSA delivery. So, what wine to pair with okra (which is rigorously fried at our house) ?
The answer: Txakoli, pronounced CHA-koh-LEE (with emphasis on the last syllable), the wonderfully light, crisp, fresh, low-alcohol wine from the Basque country.
Txakoli or Txakolina has a strong presence in our market (thanks to a few devoted and impassioned importers and distributors), and while it tends to be a little more expensive here than in New York or California, it's an ideal (read "very low alcohol") wine for the Texas summer, when we tend to eat a lot of spicy, salty foods and we need a quaffing wine that won't weigh us down with too much punch.
But the thing I like the best about the pairing of okra and Txakoli is how the wine's zinging acidity and its fresh notes cut right through the delicious sliminess of the pods, priming the palate for another mouthful.
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There are a number of Txakoli producers whose wines are available at Spec's and the Houston Wine Merchant, many under $25 and a few under $20. Just make sure that your wine seller gives you a current vintage (not last year's).
How do you prepare your summertime okra and what do you pair with it?