I'll bet you didn't know there was an Okra Hall of Fame. But there is, and as the self-appointed President and CEO of that fine organization, I have an announcement to make. The newest inductee is grilled okra with tabasco-laced Avery Island sauce, to be found on the menu at Haven.
Don't go telling me you don't like okra and mewling about how slimy it is until you have tasted chef Randy Evans' version. The fresh pods are grilled until they get deliciously charry on the outside, and they're tender inside because the cooks cover them with a pan for part of the time to trap the moisture and steam them a little.
You might want to use a fork to eat yours, but I like to grab a pod with my fingers, swipe it through some of that bright-tasting pink hot sauce, and eat it right up, nubby stem-end and all. I ate a whole plateful that way at brunch the other noon, exulting in the gentle green taste, the velvety texture and the faint, slippery undertow inside, where the plump little seeds live. Order them with a salad and call it dinner.
They're the best okra I've eaten since the glory days of the late great Bootsie's Heritage Cafe in Tomball, when chef Randy Rucker was dishing out okra in various forms to go with his cutting-edge farm-and-forage cuisine.
I still have a places of honor emeritus reserved in the Okra Hall of Fame for Rucker's pan-singed okra with green beans and lemon wedges; and for his deeply summery pan-singed okra with tomatoes. Good times, okra connoisseurs. Good times.
The current Houston lineup in the Okra Hall of Fame is distressingly short.
Besides Haven's grilled okra, there's the masala bhindi at London Sizzler, a dry-fried dish in which the sliced pods are crisped with warm Indian spices and touched with lemon. When it's good it's terrific; when it's not, the flavors and textures can seem exhausted, as if the dish has been made too far ahead.
In that same vein are the more consistent dry-fried baby okra pods popping with pungent seeds at Pondicheri, where they can often be found as part of chef Anita Jaisinghani's thali assortments.
And bringing up the slimy-and-proud-of-it end of the spectrum is the spicy okra soup served with fufu, the stretchy yam paste, a Nigerian specialty at the Peppersoup Cafe. On a previous blog post, I called it "a sort of primordial African gumbo of okra and tomato and hottish peppers, with the slippery texture that is much prized in the homeland. And by me, too."
There you have it. And until further notice, Haven's grilled okra stands alone, at the top of the Okra Hall of Fame heap. It's summer, when okra plants grow the best here, so go take advantage of the current crop.
(Haven, 2502 Algerian Way @ Kirby, 713-581-6101)