Smoked Tomatoes and Okra

Marilyn HawkesDecember 2018
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Welcome Diner serves up a vegetable-centric delight.

Chef Michael Babcock’s smoked tomatoes and okra starter ($9) at Welcome Diner is a simple dish made more divine than the sum of its parts by cooking each ingredient individually. Smoked over hickory wood and hit with salt and pepper, the juicy tomatoes conjure rustic campfire fare. “Smoked vegetables are one of the most underutilized techniques in terms of bringing savory [flavor] to vegetables,” Babcock says.

The okra is more problematic. To expel the slimy texture that many people find off-putting, Babcock slices and roasts the pods until they’re almost burnt. Before serving, the cook hits the crusty, blackened okra with Banyuls-soy glaze, a fetching combo of sweet wine and soy sauce that counteracts the dish’s overarching smokiness. To anchor the lighter vegetables, Babcock tosses in a handful of French Creole-style Brabant potatoes that have been cubed, fried and tossed in butter, garlic and parsley.

When okra goes out of season, Babcock will rotate in other seasonal vegetables, possibly corn and squash. No matter which vegetables share the plate, this vegetarian dynamo packs a flavor punch that lingers long after you’ve lapped up the last morsels.

Welcome Diner
929 E. Pierce St., Phoenix
602-495-1111, welcomediner.net

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