Recently I've been craving okra, but the season for fresh pods from the farm is over. It's time to turn to the preserved variety, and I felt like a bit of spice as well. Fortunately in the South, okra can be found in many forms, so I procured a jar of Trappey's Hot Cocktail Okra. You can eat these straight, slice them and add them to a sandwich or creamy salad of some sort, or you can take that "cocktail" modifier to heart. Oh yes. The fabled Okratini.
This is not a creation of my own, and I generally hate the -tini suffix that gets added to any beverage poured into a cocktail glass. In my opinion, this is a real, 3:1 gin:vermouth martini; the garnish is a separate issue (more on that in a bit). But the name Okratini is too euphonious to pass up. It sounds like a term from Greek philosophy... "Ωκρατίνι refers to the Aristotelian concept of preferring mild guilt over the just action, as in pretending that you've run out of checks when Girl Scouts knock on your door during cookie season. Mentioned in The Nicomachean Ethics."
Initially you don't get a lot of flavor from the okra, but the heat shows up as a slight tingle on the aftertaste. To release more of the essence, take regular bites out of the pod and give it a thorough squeeze and stir. Once that vinegar and salt brine are released it gets a little closer to a Dirty Martini, though I find that most people go a little heavy on the olive juice.
The heat from the peppers intensifies as the drink steeps and warms, and while I like the added kick, there's nothing wrong with using mild pickled okra. These are also suggested as a good garnish for a Bloody Mary; if anyone tries that out, let me know. I've had lots of different Bloody Mary variations, and have never been very enthusiastic about the cocktail. Plus in the modern age, the garnish has gotten out of hand. A mere sprig of celery is not enough; you must add shrimp and other vegetables, or bacon and pickles and citrus.
When it comes to the traditional gin and vermouth martini, two garnishes are commonly accepted: the olive(s) or twist of lemon peel. Personally I prefer the peel, but I think there's some room for improvisation without getting crazy. A blue cheese-stuffed olive is wonderful. An heirloom cherry tomato, split and skewered with a boconccino of fresh mozzarella and basil is lovely in the summer. Even a swath of orange peel speared on a sprig of rosemary can provide an added dimension to this classic cocktail. The freshness of the garnish ingredients are paramount; nobody wants those dried out olives or sad withered lemon wedges that's been fermenting in the bar tray for a few days. And keep it small and simple--serve the shrimp on the side.