September is okra month. As days get shorter most okra varieties send out a surge of seedpods just before their leaves begin to yellow, wilt, and drop from their stalks. That makes the next few weeks your best and last chance to make pickled okra if you’re going to. And I think you should. Crunchy capsules of summer, okra pickles are the essential garnish for those festive bloody marys that make winter weekends more special than they are. (Envision inebriated emoticon winking here). Make them now and you’ll be thanking yourself next week in January.
If you love okra pickles, there’s really no good excuse not to make you own. They’re so easy! It takes less than an hour to prepare and process a batch and you can make as many or as few jars as you like. I do big batches out of habit more than any other reason, but it makes just as much sense to pop out two or three jars at a time. It only takes a stock pot deep enough to cover the jars with an inch of water to make small batches. My 6-pint recipe is easy to scale up or down according what you feel like making.
Go Your Own Way
Pickled okra is open to improvisation. Prepare the basic pickling solution then follow your personal flavor map. Prefer simple savors? Go classic with fresh dill, garlic, mustard seed, and perhaps some sort of fresh chili pepper or pepper flakes. When I luck into a surplus of fresh cayenne peppers I make a super caliente batch by tucking three or four (!) of the fiery spikes into each jar along with lots of garlic, black peppercorns, celery seed, and mustard seed. The leftover dividend is a spicy okra-suffused vinegar amazing on greens, for marinated cucumbers, and especially for kicking up bloody Marys.
Chipotle Pickled Okra is one of the best condiment concoctions I make judging from how folks enjoy getting a jar around the holidays. Each juicy pod is teeming with heat and twang from classic Southwestern spices, smoky chipotles in adobo, and fresh jalapeños. There’s a unique BBQ-ness here that really plays well with okra and a bracing vinegar snap that saddles up nicely to that majestic beverage of which I speak so often. A match made in…hell?
Chipotle Pickled Okra
3 pounds of okra makes about 6 pints of pickles
Tender medium sized okra is best for pickling—be wary of large pods which are often too tough. I like to use wide mouth pint jars because they’re easiest to pack, but regular mason jars work fine too. The recipe is a simple formula that’s easily increased or decreased. Here’s some okra pickle math to make a right-sized batch…
1 pound of okra = 2 pints of pickles • Pickling solution ratio: 2 parts vinegar to 1 part water • Per pint breakdown: 1 cup of pickling solution, 2 teaspoons salt, 1½ teaspoons sugar
Get Set Up
- Set out a jar lifter or tongs, paper towels (for wiping rims), jar lids and rings, and a ladle.
- Fill a canner 3/4 full with water. Cover and bring to a boil.
- Sterilize 7 pint jars (always prepare an extra jar) in the canner by boiling them for 10 minutes. Transfer the jars to a towel covered surface.
- Replenish the water, cover canner, and hold at a simmer until ready to process pickles.
- In a small pot, bring water to a boil and sterilize the lids 10 minutes, then hold them at a simmer.
Prepare the Okra
- Trim the stalk end of each pod close to its base.
- Celery seed
- Coriander seed
- Cumin seed
- Yellow mustard seed
- Black peppercorns
- 1–3 cloves garlic for each jar, peeled and quartered
- Jalapeños (red ones are prettiest), halved or quartered, 1 or 2 per jar
Make Chipotle Puree
- Empty a 7-ounce can of chipotles in adobo sauce into a bowl. Wearing gloves, pick out each whole pepper, split it open, and scrape out the seeds. You don’t have to be meticulous.
- Chop the peppers into a fine paste and mix back into the adobo sauce.
- Note: This makes about ¼ cup (12 teaspoons). Adjust the amount according to batch size.
Mix the Pickling Solution
4 cups white distilled vinegar
2 cups water
3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
¼ cup kosher salt
Make Some Pickles
- Bring the water in the canner to a boil, covered, over high heat.
- Bring the pickling solution to a simmer over medium heat while packing the jars.
- Pack the okra into sterilized jars so that half of them point up and half point down. Leave about ½ inch of headspace below the rims.
To each jar add:
- Garlic and jalapeño slices, sliding them down the sides
- 1/4 teaspoon whole mustard seed
- 1/8 teaspoon each: celery seed, coriander seed, cumin seed, black peppercorns
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chipotle puree, to taste
- Bring the pickling solution to a rolling boil over high heat then fill the jars. Slide a knife down the sides in several places, gently pressing inward to squeeze out air. Top off with more pickling solution, leaving ¼ inch of space below the rims.
- Wipe the jar rims clean with a paper towel. Place the lids on the jars and screw on the rings. Don’t over-tighten them.
- Lower the jars into the boiling water. Cover the pot and return to a boil. Adjust the temperature to maintain a rapid simmer and process the jars for 10 minutes. (See My Confession below.)
- Transfer the pickles to a towel covered surface and leave them undisturbed for at least an hour. Store jars that don’t seal in the refrigerator.
- The next day remove the rings from the sealed jars and wash both rings and jars before storing.
- Okra pickles are best after they’ve cured 3 or 4 weeks. They’ll keep for about 2 years.
My Confession. The USDA-approved method for processing pickles is to start timing from the moment the water returns to a boil. I’ll admit that I don’t adhere strictly to the rules when I make vinegar based pickles. To avoid overcooking okra (or cucumbers or green beans) I start timing from the moment all of the jars are in the pot. That means my pickles actively boil for only about five minutes. I feel comfortable with that and I only veer from the rules when more than half of the liquid is vinegar. For quarts, I time 15 minutes from the time the jars are submerged. That’s how I do it. For you, I must suggest following the USDA guidelines, of course.