Pairing wine with food textures.
I know the title of this post took you off guard, and you were probably wondering who will solely pair wine with okra, besides me of course. So, I will mention it at the start; today's post is more about wine pairing with food textures in mind.
If you have never eaten okra, the best way to describe it is to say that biologically, okra is classified as a fruit, but in cooking, we use it as a vegetable. It's green, finger-shaped, and most kids (and some adults) hate it because of its slimy mouth feel. It has a mild bitter-sweet taste, and can come off grassy and nutty to some. The flavours are slight, and it can take on the flavouring of the other things it is cooked with. So, the texture (the slime, a.k.a. mucilage) is what commands attention when doing a pairing.
Note, there are a plethora of articles out there addressing how to make okra without the slime. I would argue, however, that once you understand the health benefits of okra, the slime does not matter anymore.
Health Benefits of Okra
Okra contains antioxidants and a protein called lectin, which may inhibit cancer cell growth in humans. [article]
Okra is low in calories. [article]
Eating okra can help to reduce blood sugar levels. [article]
That slime in okra, called mucilage, also has its benefits. It can bind to cholesterol during digestion, causing it to be passed in your stool rather than absorbed into your body. [article]
And these are just a few of the many benefits!
Wine Pairing with Texture In Mind
Depending on the dish, texture can play a very big part of a wine pairing. It's why you hear sommelier's note if a food has been deep fried, and how their wine pairing addresses that. When a food item is fried, its texture is changed to include a crust and becomes heavier. In these cases, a wine with notable acidity is needed to lighten the dish on the palate. The same can be said for okra and its mucilage.
To put the weight of the okra mucilage into perspective, it is used in certain parts of the world to thicken stews and bind elements in the pot. That is how thick a substance it is.
When pairing a wine with a savoury food item that has substantial denseness to it on the palate, such as okra and its mucilage, you want to pick a wine that is rich, and in turn, dense itself. In most cases, the 'rich' wine texture comes from winemaking. Some examples of this are:
Oak aged wines.
Wines that have spent some time on their lees.
Wines that go through malolactic transformation.
The items above can all give wine a buttery, creamy feel on the palate, thus adding a sense of richness to the wine. A few examples of wine that fit this bill:
Traditional method sparkling wine
There is no surprise that the grape examples above are all white wines, and that is because that is my preference when pairing wine with a dish that includes okra. These wines not only match for denseness, but most are wines with vibrant acidity. They can also be served chilled, which will cover you if the tropical okra dish comes with a healthy dose of pepper!
What's In My Glass
Papantonis Metron Ariston 2019, PGI Peloponnese, Greece.
The Metron Ariston is a blend of Roditis and Chardonnay. Roditis is a grape native to Greece, and though it produces white wines, its skin is a light red hue. The blend in my glass not only has seen lees aging, but the Roditis also adds phenolics to my wine adding a nutty flavour to it. With this pairing, we've paired for both texture and flavour, but most importantly, it's delicious.
For those in Ontario, who are planning to cook up an okra-based dish, here is an LCBO option that also works nicely.
Pairing wine with okra is an excellent example of taking the basic principles of food and wine pairing and applying them, devoid of the dish origin.