Having grown up in the South around many vegetable gardens, okra is part of my culinary identity. In fact, I do not feel like it is officially summer until I have had my first batch of fresh okra. Although I enjoy okra steamed, baked and pickled, my favorite way of eating it is pan-fried. I grew up eating pan-fried okra grown by my family. Mom would magically, lightly dust it with flour and sizzle it up in a big iron skillet of vegetable oil. In my gluten free adulthood, I have my own version of that recipe, playfully doused with rice flour and made crisp and sassy in a pan of coconut oil and sea salt.
Last night, I had my first fresh batch of the summer. I knew that even if I prepared other foods to eat for dinner, I would be wasting them, so instead, I ate a giant plate of okra. My toes wiggled while my stomach and taste buds thanked me for the gift of familiar, reliable flavor. The sensory experience stirred my imagination and I was transported back in time. I was ten again. I was playing outside under sunflowers, eating raw cucumbers from the vine in our garden and pretending to be anyone I wanted to become alongside my best friend and playmate. Okra has the power to send me right back to my childhood days where I played with an immense feeling of freedom.
Freedom. The gift of Independence is celebrated this weekend in our country. Simple moments remind me of my freedom as a human soul on this journey of knowing and seeking love in the world. I am thankful to okra for allowing me to revisit that innate freedom I knew as a child, and I am grateful for the earth who gives birth to such lovely crops, allowing me to have new playmates each summer.