I'm sure that most of us have heard the old saying, "Seeing is believing." As someone who loves to experiment with cooking and baking, I've also learned that tasting is believing as well. There have been times when someone prepared a dish that I didn't particularly like in a manner that completely changed my mind, or should I say, changed my tastebuds. I wouldn't have believed it possible if I hadn't tasted it myself!

As the 52-Week Recipe Challenge comes to a close, we celebrate with Sloppy Joes

AT HOME IN THE KITCHEN: Bill Pesch is pictured in his kitchen, which he says sometimes "resembles a disaster area." Photo courtesy of Bill Pesch

The recent abundance of okra on island brings to mind one such memory. Several years ago, I was meeting with my accountant, Stan Wilson, at his home in Mongmong. His wife, Terumi, an ardent gardener, was in their backyard watering her prolific garden. After meeting with Stan, I made my way out to the garden and Terumi gave me a guided tour. The plants were healthy and flourishing. Among the variety of vegetables in her garden were several okra plants. Terumi asked if I wanted some okra. I hesitated. To be candid, I wasn't an okra fan. Their slimy texture was a real turnoff for me. In fact, I hadn't eaten okra in many years.

Seemingly, Terumi read my mind and said, "Bill, I have something I want you to try." She picked some small okra and headed back into the house and instructed me to follow. She rinsed the okra, set them on the counter, then filled a pot with water and placed the pot on the stove. She turned it on high. As the water began to boil, Terumi picked up the okra and dropped them into the boiling water. Reaching for her kitchen timer, she looked at me and said, "For this recipe you use small, young okra and cook them for exactly three minutes – no less, no longer!"

As the pot continued to boil, Terumi walked over to her refrigerator and took out a small bowl. She peeled the plastic wrap off the bowl, revealing a brownish sauce. She told me it was sesame seed dressing she had made the night before. When the timer went off, Terumi removed the pot from the stove, poured the hot water into the sink and briefly rinsed the okra with cold water. She then assembled the okra on a plate, took out three small dipping dishes and spooned some sesame dressing into each one. Terumi then called Stan to join us for "a little afternoon snack." When Stan saw the okra, a smile broke out on his face and he said, "Oh wow, Bill, you are in for a treat!" Stan and Terumi each picked up an okra and dipped it into the sauce, and instructed me to do the same. I paused briefly, then followed their lead. I was hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

As I slowly began to chew, my tastebuds were treated to the sultry rich flavor of toasted sesame with an Asian twist. The okra was an absolutely perfect complement to the sauce. I again dipped the okra into the sauce and took another bite. I was in gastronomic nirvana! This was a hundred times better than what I had expected. Knowingly, Stan and Terumi smiled at me and both exclaimed, "See, we told you!" I practically begged Terumi for the sesame seed dressing recipe. She reached for her cell phone, did some fancy finger work, then said, "Done, I just sent it to you." Since then, I find it impossible to pass by okra when I see it in the store. I instantly search for the small, tender ones, and then head home to treat my family to what has become a favorite dinner side dish. If you are like I was – an okra skeptic – give this recipe a try. You too will learn that tasting is believing! By the way, this makes a fantastic salad dressing!

Week 50: Okra with Sesame Seed Dressing

To accommodate a larger serving, this recipe has been slightly modified from Terumi's original recipe.

Ingredients

3/4 cup toasted sesame seeds*

1 1/4 cups Japanese mayonnaise**

3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons white vinegar

12-16 ounces small, tender okra

Steps

1. Toast the sesame seeds. Even if the sesame seeds are already toasted, toast them again to bring out the full flavor. There are two favorite methods used to toast sesame seeds:

  • In a regular oven or toaster oven: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread seeds evenly over a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant. Stir after about 2 1/2 minutes. Keep a very close eye on them because they will burn quickly.
  • On the stove: Add the seeds into a dry skillet that has been preheated to a medium-high temperature. Toast the seeds for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring constantly, until the seeds are golden brown and fragrant. Keep a very close eye on them.

Once the seeds are toasted, immediately pour them into a large plate so they cool quickly.

2. Once the sesame seeds are cooled, you can grind them with a mortar and pestle until they form a crumbly paste. In the alternative, you can grind them in a small food processor or coffee grinder until they form a crumbly paste. Don't overgrind them.

3. Mix the mayonnaise, sugar, soy sauce and vinegar together in a bowl until smooth.

4. Add the sesame seed paste and stir until well-mixed and smooth.

5. Wash and clean the okra. Drain and set aside.

6. Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil. Add the okra.

7. Boil for exactly 3 minutes. Quickly drain and run the okra under cold running water.

8. Place the okra on a serving plate.

9. Spoon the sesame seed sauce into individual dipping dishes. Dip the okra into the sesame seed dressing and enjoy!***

Notes

* You can buy sesame seeds in bulk (much cheaper!) at Happy Mart, Tokyo Mart and American Grocery.

** Japanese mayonnaise is also available at Happy Mart, Tokyo Mart and American Grocery.

*** You can dip any boiled vegetables that you like into the sauce. We also use the sauce as a dressing on our salads.

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