Easy and Amazing Homemade BBQ Sauce

BBQ Sauce Ingredients

Prep Time:  5 minutes. 

Cooking Time:  5 to 7 minutes. 

The first time my wife made her homemade BBQ sauce for me, it was an afterthought to our dinner.  I was on the porch grilling ribs and told her they would be ready in ten minutes, and she casually asked if I wanted BBQ sauce.  I assumed she meant generic store-bought sauce from the fridge.  Instead, she made, from scratch, the best BBQ sauce I ever tasted.

She finished the sauce in less than ten minutes in a pan on the stove, and spooned it over the ribs.  I couldn’t believe how good it was.  It was tangy and spicy and sweet with layers of rich flavors and so incredibly delicious.  At my request, she made the sauce for our friends, and everyone agreed it’s the best they ever tasted.  They asked her to make jars of it for them to take home.  My dad barters me power tools for it.

Why is this dish incredible?      It takes about 5 minutes to prepare the ingredients, and another 5 minutes to sauté.  Usually, if I see a new recipe with more than a few ingredients listed, I skip it.  However, this sauce is truly fast and simple.  I would never have believed homemade BBQ sauce was this easy, until I saw Kayla make it.  And I still think it is magic every time she does.

Friends, if you want to turn a grilling event into a romantic dinner, try this BBQ sauce recipe!  Tell your dinner date that you made this sweet and tangy sauce lovingly from scratch.  You will be golden for the night–trust me on this. 

Ingredients (Serves 4.  A little goes a long way; don’t drown the dish in this rich sauce.  We offer it to guests in little bowls next to the grilled meat and they can take more if they want.  You may double the recipe, and save the left-overs in a jar in the fridge. )

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (2 cloves for garlic lovers)
  • ½ medium sweet onion, finely diced
  • pinch of salt (to sweat the aromatics)
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 tbs light brown sugar
  • coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes (more for spicier sauce)
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp soy sauce

To prepare:  Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add onions and a pinch of salt and sauté until translucent and they begin to caramelize.  Stir in garlic and cook about 30 seconds, until the garlic just becomes fragrant.  Reduce heat to low and stir in all the remaining ingredients.  Simmer on low heat and continue to stir and let mixture bubble until it thickens to desired consistency.

More about this recipe:  When I asked Kayla to write down this recipe, she had some difficulty.  She learned to cook this dish from her grandmother, who learned it from her mom.  Kayla had never measured the ingredients, or thought about heat or cooking time.  She simply knew from experience how much of which ingredients to add as she went along.  Kayla uses sight, sound, and smell, to know when things are ready, and continually tastes her creations and adjusts as she goes along.  For someone like me, who relies heavily on recipes, using only my senses is unfamiliar territory.

She measured her ingredients over several occasions preparing this BBQ sauce, to get it just right.  However, you should use your senses to adjust the sauce to your taste.  If you like it hotter, add more pepper flakes; if you like it sweeter, add more brown sugar.  Please feel confident to trust your senses and personalize this recipe to make it your best ever homemade BBQ sauce.

Super Bowl Champion Thai Lettuce Wraps

Thai Lettuce Wraps Ingredients

Although we prepared several wonderful dishes on Super Bowl Sunday, the absolute champion was Kayla’s Thai Lettuce Wraps.

She decided to make Thai Lettuce Wraps only after taking inventory of the ingredients I brought into the house and set on the table:  freshly picked bibb and red salad and buttercrunch lettuce, baby cabbage leaves, new carrots from the garden, fresh ginger root, cilantro, ground pork, and etc.  (All of these ingredients are available freshly picked every day at Coastal Bend Health Foods.)

For someone like me, who relies heavily on recipes, it is endlessly fascinating to watch a clever chef create delicious recipes from scratch, based on the ingredients at hand.  As a dietician, Kayla has a knack for creating dishes that are also healthy and nutritious.

Once I started eating the lettuce wraps, I could not put them down.  Our other dishes–baked potatoes stuffed with bacon, chives, and cheese; Four String sausage dogs topped with grilled onions and English mustard on homemade buns; collard greens; and more—went into the fridge to make hearty farm lunches during the dreary post-football season week.

So, while we salute Eli and the New York Giants, the real Super Bowl Champion was the Thai Lettuce Wraps!

Why this recipe is excellent:  This dish is extremely fresh; every bite is a crunchy taste of vegetable goodness.  The pork filling is spicy and flavorful with an Asian flare.  The wraps are not messy—the long freshly picked lettuce leaf is the perfect wrapper for the pork filling.  This dish is extremely healthy; you can go back for guilt-free seconds.  If you are eating this dish with a group, get all the wraps you want up front, because there may be none on the second pass.

(Serves 4, or apparently 1 if you are Justin)

Ingredients:

Pork filling

2 tbsp sesame seed oil

½ onion, chopped

1 jalapeno, mostly seeded, finely minced

1 lb ground pork

Red pepper flakes, to taste

Pinch of salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 heaping tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated

Shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced

6 or so tbsp low-sodium soy sauce

1 generous splash mirin (rice wine)

1 splash rice wine vinegar

1 tbsp packed brown sugar

Juice of 1 lime

Wrap and Toppings

12 large lettuce leaves, rinsed well and dried (Recommended: Bibb)

5 baby carrots, finely julienned

Cabbage, finely shredded

Cilantro

To prepare:  Heat oil in a pan on medium heat.  Add onion and jalapeno, sautéing until tender. Add ground pork, salt and red pepper.  When pork is almost completely browned, add garlic, ginger, and mushrooms, cooking for an additional minute until fragrant.  Stir in liquids and brown sugar.  Increase heat to high and cook until liquids reach a rolling boil. Remove from heat.  Finish with squeezed lime.

To assemble wraps, place pork filling, carrot, cabbage and cilantro on a large lettuce leaf.  Fold leaf around filling or roll like a burrito to prevent filling from coming out.  Enjoy.

Homemade Breakfast Sausage Recipe

"Sage" and "Hot" Homemade Seasoning Packets (Four String Farm)

What is better than the smell of good breakfast sausage, frying in the morning pan?

Stop by Coastal Bend Health Foods and get a free packet of Homemade Breakfast Sausage Seasoning with each pound of ground pork.  We offer three flavors of seasoning:  sage, hot, and breakfast blend.  For a limited time, when you buy three pounds of ground pork, get 10% off your purchase.

Our breakfast sausage is easy to prepare.  Simply empty the contents of the seasoning packet onto a pound of ground pork, mix together well, form into patties, and fry until golden brown.

Our homemade breakfast sausage is incredibly delicious, but it is not a guilty pleasure.  Our farm fresh pork is lean and healthy, and we never give our animals steroids, hormones, or antibiotics.  There are no MSG’s in our seasoning (most conventional breakfast sausage is full of MSG’s) or other additives.  Our breakfast sausage is local pastured pork with traditional seasoning.  It is wholesome and delicious.

Stop by Coastal Bend Health Foods and get your breakfast sausage today.

Ingredients of sage and hot seasoning packet:

Sage
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon coriander

Hot
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon coriander

To prepare: Simply pour the contents of the packet over a pound of ground pork, and mix well. For the pork into patties and fry until crisply browned.

Nutritional Information (for a 2.4 oz, or 68 g, serving of 90/10 pork)

Calories:  108

Protein: 13.2 g

Fat:  6.0 g

Saturated Fat:  2.4

Sodium: 36 mg without seasoning packet, 380 with seasoning packet

Collard Greens Recipe

Freshly picked collard greens offer a unique and robust flavor in this healthy and delicious recipe.  Prep time is 15 minutes and cooking time is 45 minutes, or up to 2 hours.  The longer they simmer, the better the flavor.

Collard greens are not particularly popular outside the Deep South, where folks know their country greens.   Many of us were subjected to poorly cooked collard greens in grade school cafeterias–or worse, we ate them from a can and that cured us forever.  Most collard recipes call for processed and nitrate-soaked pork products, so health-conscious eaters sometimes avoid collards altogether.

A negative stereotype of collards is very regrettable.  Most home gardeners can easily grow this hearty vegetable in the backyard plot.  Shoppers at farmer’s markets can usually find local collards throughout winter and spring.  Freshly picked collards from a chemical-free garden offer one of the best and healthiest tastes of the farm.

Why is this recipe excellent?  These collards will have your kids asking for their greens.  This dish can be quickly prepped and then set to simmer while the rest of the meal is prepared.  Fresh bacon is used (not cured pork), so this dish is healthy and has a wonderful flvaor.  The leftovers are excellent. 

Ingredients (serves 4 as a side dish.  We typically double the ingredients and use the same cooking time for each step.):

  • quarter pound of fresh bacon, roughly chopped into one inch or smaller pieces
  • half of a  large sweet onion (1015 onion if you can find it), roughly chopped
  • half teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • good pinch of sea salt
  • one large clove garlic, minced
  • one bunch freshly picked collard greens
  • 1 cup low-sodium low-fat chicken stock, with one cup extra on hand
  • a dash or two of hot sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

Bacon, onions, and garlic in the saute

To prepare:  Rinse the collards well and remove the stems by holding the stem in one hand and stripping the leaf down the stem with the other.  Removing stems should take less than a minute.  Discard stems.  Lay collard leaves flat on a cutting board and roll or fold over, and roughly chop into long strips.

Sautee the bacon, onions, pepper flakes, and salt in a cast iron pot with the lid off (you can also use a metal pot) over medium-high heat.  Sautee until the onions turn translucent and bacon is about half cooked.  Add garlic and stir until the garlic just releases its fragrance, about 30 seconds.  Add as many leaves into the pot as you can fit, pour in one cup chicken stock, add a dash of hot sauce, cover, and simmer at a low boil for at least 45 minutes.

The leaves will cook down, so you can add the remainder of the leaves as the collards cook.  As the collards release their moisture, the liquid level will rise, but as the dish simmers some of the liquid will evaporate.  Add more chicken stock only as needed, to achieve your desired amount of liquid.  Make sure the liquid does not cook all the way out.

After 45 minutes the collards are ready to serve.  Salt and pepper to taste.  You may continue to simmer for up to two hours.

Collard bunch after cutting

Nutritional Information (per serving)

Calories:  72

Protein:  4.7 g

Fat:  4.4 g

Carbohydrates:  4.8 g

Sodium:  165 mg

One serving of collards provides half the recommended daily intake for vitamin A!  Vitamin A is important for eye sight and immunity, and serves as an antioxidant.  Collards are high in fiber and vitamin C.  Additionally, collards have an organosulfur called “sulforaphane” that has been shown to have anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and anti-microbial properties.

More about this recipe:  Rinse the collards well, perhaps two or three times in new water.  Even collards grown in a pastured program like ours need a rinsing to get the dirt off.  If you have collards grown in a chemical program, you cannot rinse away the chemicals, but you can at least remove some of the residual that rests on the leaves.   

The red pepper flakes and hot sauce do not add much heat to the dish, but more of a spicy flavor.  The heat is cooked out, and what remains of the seasoning is a subtle deep flavor.

After letting the cast iron pot of collards cool on the stove, we put the whole pot in fridge and reheat the next day.  The flavors intensify overnight for a richly textured and beautiful dish.  If you are taking a side dish to a dinner party, consider making this recipe the night before and reheat at the party.  Pay special attention to the people who say they don’t like collards, and watch their reaction after they try your dish.

Three Good Recipes for Green Tomatoes

The following green tomato recipes are delicious and exceptionally healthy.  Kimmi’s Oven-Fried Green Tomato is the healthiest and lightest fried green tomato recipe you will ever try!   And her Green Tomato Rice is a hearty dish, perfect for a blustery winter day.  Thank you Kimmi for these fabulous recipes!

Green Tomato Chutney is sweet, spicy, tart, and wonderful–use this chutney to spice up any holiday meal.

Oven-Fried Green Tomatoes

(Thanks Kimmi Norvell for this wonderful recipe!)

Ingredients:

• 1 Four String Farm fresh egg*

• ½ cup cornmeal

• ¼ cup flour**

• 1 teaspoon cornstarch, tapioca or potato starch

• 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

• ½ teaspoon fresh ground sea salt

• ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper

• 4 large Four String Farm green tomatoes

*For vegan, sub ½ cup water & 1 ½ teaspoon ground flax seed combined in blender at high speed for 30 seconds. Pour in a wide and shallow bowl, allow to sit for until thickened.

** For gluten free, sub with quinoa, oat or brown rice flour.

To prepare:  Preheat oven to 425 and grease cookie sheet. Beat egg in one bowl and combine dry ingredients in another bowl. Cut tomatoes into ¼ to ½ inch slices. Submerge into egg or flax mixture and allow excess to drip off. Place in cornmeal mixture and press to ensure even coverage on each slice. Flip tomato and press again. Place on baking sheet. Bake all tomatoes for 15 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown. Turn over and bake another 15-20 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

Four String Farm Green Tomato Rice

(also from Kimmi!)

Ingredients: 

• 4 slices of fresh Four String Farm bacon

• 1 bunch of green onions, sliced

• 4 medium green tomatoes, peeled and chopped

• 1 fresh farm jalapeno pepper

• 1 clove garlic, minced

• 1 cup long-grain brown rice

• 2 ½ cups broth of your choice

• 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme

• Fresh ground sea salt and pepper

• Dash of hot sauce, optional

• ¼ cup fresh grated Parmesan, optional

To prepare:  Sauté the bacon in a medium saucepan until crisp. Remove and drain. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings. If you choose not to use bacon, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté green onions for one minute, add green tomatoes and sauté for one minute more. Add garlic and jalapeno and sauté for about a minute. Add broth, rice, thyme and seasonings and bring to a boil. Stir, cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. If using, stir in Parmesan and sprinkle with bacon just before serving.

Serves four.

Green Tomato Chutney

Ingredients:

• 2 1/2 pounds firm green tomatoes, about 6 cups diced

• 1 cup golden raisins (or if you can find them, 1/2 cup currants)

• 1 cup chopped onion

• 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1 1/4 cups cider vinegar

• 1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices

• 1 teaspoon chili powder

• 1 tablespoon chopped crystallized ginger

To prepare: Cut tomatoes into 3/4-inch dice (you should have about 6 cups). Combine all ingredients in a cast iron pot; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook for about 1 hour, until thickened.

Spoon chutney into jars and refrigerate up to three weeks (it will last much longer, but flavor deteriorates). We pressure can our chutney, and will happily provide canning instructions upon request.

Makes about 3 pints of green tomato chutney.

Easy Roast Chicken Recipe for Pastured Chicken

Roasted Pastured Chicken

The following recipe is the easiest and best way to cook a pastured chicken.  A pastured chicken is vastly superior to a conventional, supermarket bird.  This recipe involves almost no preparation time and only a couple of ingredients.  However, this simple recipe unlocks all the delicious flavor of a pastured chicken.

Prep time:  10 minutes.   Cooking time:  One hour, or up to one hour forty minutes for a larger bird.

Cook it through.  Use a dependable meat thermometer to ensure the chicken is fully cooked to the center.  Nothing is more frustrating than to put a beautifully browned bird on the table, hearing the oohs and ahs of the family, then cutting into the thigh and realizing you need another 10 minutes in the oven.  The thermometer should read at least 170 degrees in the thigh, and 160 in the breast.

A note about the weight of the chicken and cooking time:  For a 3 pound chicken, total cooking time will be around 60 minutes.   For a 4 pound bird, total time will be about one hour twenty minutes.  A 5 pound bird will take about one hour forty minutes.

Ingredients:

  • one 3 to 5 pound chicken
  • 2 or 3 tbls unsalted butter (helps the skin brown evenly and become crispy)
  • sea salt and crushed black pepper
  • roasting pan or V-rack

To prepare:  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Place a roasting pan or V-rack in the oven as it pre-heats.  Soften 2 tablespoons butter and brush over the entire skin of the chicken.  Generously sprinkle sea salt and crushed black pepper on the bird.

When the oven is ready, take out the roasting pan or v-rack, and place the chicken, wing side down, on the rack and put it in oven.  After 15 minutes, take out the bird and turn it to the other wing and put it back in the oven.  After another 15 minutes, take out the bird and place it breast side up on the pan and put it back in oven.  Turn the oven to 450 degrees, and cook for another 20 to 25 minutes.  (Turning the oven to 450 helps nicely brown the skin while finishing the bird.)

(Note:  If you are cooking a 5 pound bird, place it on one side for 20 minutes then the other side for 20 minutes.  Then, cook it breast side up for another 30 to 40 minutes before you turn the oven up to 450.  You may be able to cook a 5 pound chicken all the way through at 375 long enough to sufficiently brown the skin.)

Remove the chicken from oven.  Let stand ten minutes.  Serve.

A note about v-racks:  V-racks are excellent for roasting perfect chickens because they keep the chicken from sitting in its own juices while it cooks, and also makes it easy to rotate the bird to cook evenly and thoroughly.

Why turn the bird during cooking?  Turning the bird allows it to cook evenly on all sides and in the center.  If you are cooking a large bird, 5 pounds or bigger, don’t leave it on the sides too long, to make sure the wing tips don’t dry out or burn.  Pre-heating the roasting pan or v-rack allows the chicken to start cooking immediately when you place it in the oven, instead of waiting for the pan to heat.

Ideas for Left-Overs

This roasted chicken recipe makes excellent left-overs.  Strip the chicken from the bones and save it for chicken salad, pasta,  stir fry, chicken tacos, or simply heated back up in a pan lightly coated with olive oil.  Some families can get up to three or four meals from one chicken.  It is a great value to divide one bird across several meals and only have to do the prep and cooking once—especially with this easy recipe.

The meat from pastured chickens holds up extremely well to re-cooking.  I have reheated the same chicken meat four or five times with no significant degeneration or mushiness to the meat—a sure sign of a quality bird.  Strip the chicken meat from the bones, divide it into individual serving bags, and freeze it.  Thaw out the frozen cooked chicken for a quick easy meal.

Go to fourstringfarm.com for recipes ideas.  You can also use the drippings from your roast chicken to make a wonderful wholesome gravy.  Finally, you can use the bones, back, neck, and other discards from the bird for high quality chicken stock.  If you have never tried to make gravy or stock, you will be amazed at how easy it is—and how delicious.

Pulled Pork Sandwich Recipe

Slice ham or shred for "pulled pork"

On the off-chance you have leftovers from your Fresh Ham Roast Recipe, this sandwich recipe is perfect.  Shred the ham roast to make “pulled pork” and prepare your sandwich as follows.

I use only fresh homemade bread or tortillas with this recipe.  Try a handful of fresh garden herbs instead of lettuce.  I love the crispness of cucumbers on this sandwich.  Nothing beats garden fresh tomatoes, but a good salsa can also dress up this sandwich.

The secret to this recipe is to slightly caramelize the onions, and get the pulled pork crisp on one side.  Even though this recipe is very healthy, do not be surprised when your family tells you this is the best sandwich they ever tasted.

Ingredients:

  • 2 to 3 pounds “Four String Pulled Pork”
  • 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 sweet onions, sliced
  • 2 Serrano or 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, sliced
  • homemade wheat bread (or tortillas) or high-quality bread
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
  • salsa or diced fresh tomatoes
  • handful of chopped fresh herbs (oregano or basil)
  • salt and pepper to taste

To prepare:  Heat non-stick pan to medium-high.  Saute the onions and peppers until softened.  Add the pork and saute until the pork is just getting crisp.  Remove pork/onion/pepper mixture to serving plate.  (Note:  Use fairly high heat in pan to caramelize the onions and get the pork slightly crisp on one side.)

To prepare sandwich or taco, place pork mixture on the bread or tortilla.   Top with salsa or diced tomatoes, and thinly sliced cucumbers.  Generously sprinkle fresh herbs.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Close taco or top with another slice of bread and serve.

Fresh Ham Roast Recipe

Add this level of water

The following recipe is my all-time favorite for our fresh ham roasts.  Preparation time is less than 15 minutes.  Cooking time is 2 hours 20 minutes.  If you manage to save any of this roast, the left-overs are wonderful.

Fresh bone-in ham has not been cured or processed in any way.  Our ham and picnic roasts are cut by the butcher to a thickness of three inches.  These roasts are moist, tender, flavorful, and incredibly delicious.  Try this recipe for a new family favorite.  

Ingredients:

  • one 3 to 5 pound fresh ham or picnic roast
  • about 2 to 3 cups water
  • salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste
  • aluminum foil

To prepare:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place pork roast in a 13×9 inch pan or glass baking dish.  Generously sprinkle salt and pepper to taste over  both sides of ham roast.  I also sprinkle two or three teaspoons of crushed red pepper over the roast.

Pour 2 to 3 cups of water into the pan (the water level should come about an inch up the side of the roast).  Cover the pan tightly with foil and place in the oven for 2 hours.  The water steams the roast as it cooks, and keeps the roast very moist.  Do not let the water cook all the way out.

At the end of 2 hours, increase the oven to 450 degrees and remove the foil from the pan.  Place the roast back in the oven for another 20 minutes.  Turn the roast after 10 minutes to make sure both sides brown evenly.  Ideally, the water will cook almost, but not all the way, out.

Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.   Spoon the juices in the bottom of the pan over the finished roast.  The roast is ready to serve.

To serve as a “New Year’s Ham”, place the roast on a serving platter.  Slice the roast across the grain and serve.

To create “pulled pork”, simply shred the roast with your fingers.  (See Pulled Pork Sandwich Recipe for serving suggestions).

Slice ham or shred for “pulled pork”

Venison Stuffed with Greens

If you follow this blog, you know that I protect, as best as I can, the predators on my farm:  coyotes, hawks, owls, coons, bobcats, gators, and so on.  Obviously, this policy includes the peaceful, graceful, gentle deer.

Today, I would like to discuss with you a shift in policy. 

I went out this morning to check one of my winter gardens.  I planted this garden from seed with spinach, chard, cabbage, kohl rabi, collards, cauliflower, and a variety of lettuces.  The beautiful vibrant leafy green vegetables were almost ready to harvest. 

This morning, most of the vegetables were gone.  All that remained were a couple thousand deer-hoof prints down the long rows.

I grabbed my hair with both hands and fell to my knees in the sand.  If you heard a long anguished cry on the outskirts of town around daybreak this morning, that was me.

Usually, the dog chases away deer before they get close to the gardens.  However, I have a new batch of chicks out on pasture, and raccoons have been trying to tear down the fencing to get to them, so I locked up the dog with the chicks to protect them.  The deer took advantage of the dog’s incarceration by throwing a dinner party on my garden.  I can’t prove it, but I think the deer and raccoons are working together. 

Can I tell you something about cute precious deer?  Deer have teeth.  Deer have big spinach-chomping teeth.  And they have sharp hooves.  It looks like they hosted a rugby match on my garden.  Or a tractor pull, with mules.

So, here is my shift in policy.  I will continue, in principle, to protect the wonderful predators of my farm.  However, I WILL HARVEST every last bit of spinach, chard, greens, and lettuces that I just lost.  I will harvest it as chicken-fried deer steaks.

So, place your order now for “Venison Stuffed with Greens”.  I am locking and loading and going out now to harvest it for you.

P.S. For my vegetable-loving customers, do not worry.  We will still enjoy a bounty of delicious winter vegetables, coming soon.  I have more gardens.  Also, I typically grow 99 times more vegetables than I plan to sell, due to my former predator protection policy.

Okra is Not a Four-Letter-Word

017_20

I never liked okra, and that’s not my fault.  I had only ever eaten it slimy, deep-fried, and wrapped in a wad of corn meal.

However, my opinion of okra improved greatly when I learned to roast it in the open fire; to sauté it with onions at altitude; to spice the okra with some foreign four-letter-words.

A Vegetarian Trek

My distaste for okra surfaced on a mountain climbing trip in the Himalayas.  In a small village on the Beas River of India, I hired a guide and porters and horses for an expedition through the Rohtang pass to Ladakh.

As the crew prepared for the trip, I drank tea on a balcony facing the immense wave of mountains we were about to ascend.  The weather shifted on the crest of peaks from sunny white clouds to mist to black storm.

I had long dreamed of exploring those forbidding mountains.  I had a burning curiosity to know how food is grown in such impossibly harsh conditions.  It was difficult to imagine that humans could survive, much less cultivate, the brutal terrain rising in front of me into the clouds.

Our plan was to pack a few days of food and re-supply at farms along the way.  It was to be, out of cultural necessity, a vegetarian trek.  The porters loaded our supplies into burlap bags and metal chests and balanced the loads on two small black horses and tied it all down.  The guide waved to me and I followed them out of the village into a steep vertical climb.

Because We Have Much, My Friend!

On the first evening, when the porter opened a chest to prepare dinner, I saw a lot of okra.  There were onions and peppers and spices in the kit, but mainly there was okra.

The guide was soft-spoken and articulate.  He carried the novel Le Morte d’Arthur in his pack and sat to read every moment his work allowed.  I held an okra pod in the air and asked him why there was so much.  He looked up from his book and said, “Because we have much, my friend!”

The Local Food Movement

This answer is the expression of a good harvest in a farming culture.  In this remote land, all food is local.  When a crop ripens, there is suddenly very much of it.  Okra ripens with a vengeance.   We had chests full of okra in our camp because the green fields along the river far below were full of okra.

In America, there is an increasingly popular “local food” movement–people who strive to eat seasonal produce from sustainable local farms.  They are called locavores.

In the farming cultures of developing countries, and especially in the villages of the upper Himalayas, folks are locavores of necessity.  They don’t have continual access to a perpetually ripe and unlimited diversity of vegetables from around the world.  The menu is the daily harvest as each crop comes ripe.

A High-Level Cooking Class

At dinner, I received my first lesson in cooking okra.  Our camp cook was a culinary phenomenon.  His only tools were a small knife, a brace of spices, tin plates, and a diesel camp stove.  As a fierce wind howled around the tent, he prepared a dish of sautéed okra and onions and peppers and spices so good that I nearly wept into my tin plate.

After climbing all day in the wind and storm and sun, clinging to the footholds of some perilous cliff-face, shuffling awkwardly along a narrow path at the edge of an abyss, struggling to the top of a vertical rise only to find yet another ragged peak looming above, straining every muscle of man and horse over rocky impediments of the thrilling landscape, standing awestruck at the views from the tallest ladder of land in the world, lungs burning and body slowly numbing with weariness and cold; we were all very hungry.

The cook prepared okra in a different way at each meal.  A trick to keeping the harvest interesting is to employ multiple unique recipes for each crop.

One night the cook brushed the okra with oil and spices and threw it into the camp fire.  When he carefully pulled it back out, it was a vegetable masterpiece.  I leaned into the glow of the fire and ate one of the best meals of my life, roasted okra of all things, under the brilliant flickering Himalayan stars.

Teaching “Okra”

The Hindi word for okra is bhindi, which translates to ‘lady fingers’.  The guide would say, “Eat the delicious lady fingers!”  They loved okra.

I taught the porters to say “okra”.  They had never heard the English word okra.  They thought it was hysterical and practiced the word with much laughter.  When something unlucky happened, or a dark cloud rolled across the mountain, or a horse lost his footing, they would point and say, “Okra!”

Go Left! and Go Right!

One of the porters wore his pants tucked into rubber boots twice the size of his feet.  He weighed about 90 pounds, but could probably carry both horses fully loaded up the mountain.  All day he talked to the horses in Hindi.

I began to recognize several of his expressions from repetition and a certain sharp tone of voice.  I asked the guide what the porter was saying.  He hesitated and then said, “He is telling the horse where to go…such as, ‘go left’ and ‘go right’.”  The guide said something to the porters in Hindi, and they all laughed.

I asked him to teach me these commands.  Since I taught them “okra”, they agreed to teach me some good words in their language.  As we ate supper by the fire each night, I learned a small vocabulary of Hindi.

Unfortunately, the words they taught me did not mean “go left” and “go right” and so on.  They were the filthiest curse words in the Hindi language.  Later, when I got down from the mountains and practiced my “go left” and “go right” on the rickshaw drivers of India, I found out just how foul these commands were.

The porters must have thought okra was a four-letter-word.  So they taught me some Hindi four-letter-words as a practical joke.

As we climbed to the roof of the world, we depleted our store of food.  It was too cold for okra in the terraced gardens of our new altitude.  We were a band of roving locavores, so we purchased new and rare and wonderful vegetables from the farms we passed on the cloudy cold heights of India.  But I must tell about those vegetables another time.

Lady Fingers in Rockport

Now is the time for okra at your local farm.  We have much okra, my friend.

Prepared correctly, okra is a tasty dish—and very healthy.  Okra is rich in vitamin A and C, folic acid, and dietary fiber, as well as iron, calcium, and magnesium.  These vitamins and minerals are essential to the body in the heat of summer, when okra is in season.  Nature gives us exactly what we need, when we need it.  Local food works.

You can find cooking gems to grace your lady fingers under “Recipes” at fourstringfarm.com.  Look for bhindi with onions and peppers and spices, fire roasted okra, and frittata featuring okra.  If these recipes are not incredibly delicious, call me and we’ll figure out what went wrong.

Or, I will teach you to say “go left” and “go right” in Hindi.  When you serve okra, add that touch of spice to the dish.  But remember, okra is not a four-letter-word.

%d bloggers like this: