Yesterday, at the third annual Okra Palooza that took place inside The Lot, six home cooks and three chefs from the Dallas area okra-battled it out. All nine participants found varying uses of the vegetable as they tried to secure the title of Okra Palooza champion and a staycation prize at Hotel Palomar. The money raised benefits Promise of Peace Community Garden in East Dallas, which is moving over to a new location by White Rock United Methodist Church soon.
Elizabeth Dry, executive director of POP and organizer of the Okra Palooza, said this event continues to grow each year. “It’s a fun opportunity to celebrate something we grow in the garden,” Dry said. She said she hopes that the new garden location will be a place for all people to come together and learn about nature.
Based on the chefs’ creations, it’s evident that okra can be used in all sorts of ways. The Dallas chefs competing were Graham Dodds (Central 214), Chad Houser (Café Momentum), and Mark Wootton (Garden Café). Dodds and Wootton competed for the first time to steal the title from reigning champion Houser. (In a friendly way, of course.)
Dodds’ dish was a buttermilk biscuit topped with peach preserves, Benton’s Country ham, and pickled okra. Wootton created a wilted kale, okra, and avocado salad with a lemon juice, oil, and ginger beer dressing. He finished it off with cracked red pepper, salt, pepper, and pecans. Houser entered his go-to recipe for Ninny’s Fried Okra Salad (named after what his daughter, nieces, and nephews call his mother) that has buttermilk fried okra, sliced on the bias with tomatoes and scallions. It’s dressed with a distilled white vinegar, sugar, and canola oil vinaigrette.
Home chefs included Mara Black, Joely Rogers, Andrea Pedigo, Andrea Bithell, Greg Brown and Thomas Morris (who was helping Brown). Black created a Indian dish with okra called bhindi bhaji (“bhindi” means okra and it is known as “lady’s finger” in India). Bhaji is a vegetable dish with little sauce. Rogers made an okra sourdough bread made with goat cheese and honey. Pedigo served okra relleño that was beer-batter fried and stuffed with Monterrey jack cheese. Bithell and two students from the Paul Quinn College Farm dished out an okra salad with a pecan-fried okra on the side. Greg Brown and Thomas Morris served a fried okra wonton with okra, shallots, garlic, white wine, lemon, and parmesan with grilled pickled vegetables.
A panel of judges declared the winners in both categories of professional and home/private chefs. Dodds stole the win from Houser, and Brown/Morris took home the win for their wonton okras. Andrea Pedigo placed a close second.
Dodds and Brown both won a one-night stay at Hotel Palomar, where the Central 214 chef works, anyway. “I whopped [Chad’s] ass, that’s all that matters,” Dodds said.
Marley Dablo is a D Magazine intern and will be an online journalism senior at the University of Oklahoma in the fall. She plans to attend culinary school upon graduation in hopes of combining her writing and culinary skills to ultimately have her own cooking show one day.