Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Caroline M. Cunningham
Okra is delicious deep-fried, but they are more versatile than you think. The smaller pods are the most tender so look for ones 3 - 4 inches long. Refrigerate and cook within a few days. Okra "slime" naturally thickens stews and soups. The substance is released as you cut the pods, so we suggest cutting them into larger chunks, rather than thin slices. This dish is simple to make, but it packs a surprising amount of flavor from tender sautéed okra, sweet corn, Cajun spices, and buttery garlic breadcrumbs.
Serves 8 (serving size: 1 1/2 to 2 cups)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Whisk together oil and flour in a Dutch oven; cook over medium-high, whisking, until mixture is golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in onion, celery, bell pepper, and minced garlic, and cook, stirring, until vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes.
2. Stir in tomatoes, broth, okra, corn, Cajun seasoning, and pepper, and bring to a boil over medium-high. Reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, combine melted butter and pressed garlic. Brush both sides of French bread slices with garlic butter, and bake in preheated oven until lightly golden, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from oven, and process in a food processor until coarsely crumbled.
4. Squeeze rice pouches to separate grains. Tear a 2-inch vent in each pouch. Microwave both pouches at the same time at HIGH for 2 minutes. (The rice will be slightly undercooked.) Spoon into prepared baking dish. Top with okra mixture and breadcrumbs.
5. Bake in preheated oven until breadcrumbs are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.