Okra is a Southern staple also known as “ladies’ fingers” because of their long, finger-like shape. For a veggie with such a pretty nickname, okra has a bad reputation for being slimy. Maybe that’s why so many people avoid cooking and eating it. It isn’t even readily available in many markets so it isn’t as familiar a vegetable and lots of people just don’t know what to do with it or how to cook it.
Okra is definitely under-appreciated but it’s definitely worth giving a try. Okra has a mild taste similar to eggplant. Okra is low in calories and a good source of vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium and fiber. Okra does have a substance inside it called mucilage which acts as a natural thickener and is helpful when cooking gumbo and other stews. There are many ways, however, to cook okra so that it’s slime-free and delicious. Here are some tips on how to cook this Southern beauty.
1. Selection and Storage
Though you can find it year-round in some parts of the country, okra comes into its peak season from May through September. Choose pods that are small and crisp and avoid pods that have brown spots or blemishes or are shriveled. To store fresh okra, wrap it up and keep it in the fridge for up to 3 or 4 days. Okra can also be bought frozen, whole or sliced.
How you prep the okra will help determine how slimy it gets. Water enhances the sliminess so don’t wash the okra until you are ready to cook it. Let the okra sit at room temperature for a while before using it. The liquid that makes okra feel slimy comes out when you cut the okra so try to limit how much you cut the vegetable. Okra can be cooked whole; just cut or pull off the stems. If you are going to cook them whole, try to buy smaller pods.
If you do need to cut the okra, cut it into big chunks rather than thin slices. The more surface area, the more places slime has to escape. You can also poke holes in the top of the pod right beneath the stem and let some of the mucilage out. Then chop the okra the way you want it.
3. Three Tricks Before Cooking
If you freeze okra and cut it while it is still frozen, it will less slimy than when you cut it fresh. A second trick for reducing sliminess is to soak the okra in vinegar for half an hour before cooking it. Rinse it and pat dry before cooking. Finally, you can pre-cook okra at very high heat by sautéing, roasting, blanching or grilling. Then add cooked okra to your recipe and there will be hardly any slime at all.
4. Cooking Methods
How you cook the okra is also important. As mentioned, cooking it at high heats helps eliminate a lot of slime. Make sure the okra is completely dry before cooking it. Get great tips in How to Cook Vegetables So They Don’t Wilt and How to Avoid Common Mistakes When Cooking Vegetables. Okra can be grilled on a grill pan or an outdoor grill. Just toss the pods in a bit of oil and your favorite seasonings, and then grill them for about 10 minutes until slightly charred. Fried okra is a popular dish that is crispy and delicious. Coat the okra with seasoned flour or corn meal. They can be fried whole or in slices.
Sautéing is another good method of cooking. You need to saute it long enough for any slime to cook out, about 10-15 minutes. Don’t overcrowd the pan as that will lead to steaming which will create more slime. Dry roasting okra makes them taste nutty, grassy and slightly sweet. Small pods can be roasted whole while larger ones can be sliced in half lengthwise. Roast them at 400 degrees for about 25-30 minutes. A delicious recipe to try is this Crispy Spiced Cauliflower and Okra. Get even more tips and Try These 10 Methods for Cooking Flavorful Vegetables.
5. Other Ingredients and Recipes
The taste of okra is mild and slightly grassy. A popular way to cook it is with onions and tomatoes. The acidity in tomatoes also helps reduce slime. Adding lemon or lime juice while cooking will also help cut the slime. Okra goes well with bold spices such as cayenne pepper, cumin and chile. See my recipe for Bhindi Masala which has okra cooked with onions, chili peppers and tons of warm, fragrant Indian spices. This Creole Okra Corn Soup has tomatoes, smoked paprika and cayenne for tons of delicious flavor. This BEST Vegan “Chicken” and “Sausage” Gumbo is so good, you’ll think you’ve been transported to the south.
If you have had a bad experience with okra or have just been hesitant to try it, it’s time to give these ladies’ fingers a fair chance. With the right prepping and cooking methods, okra is a delicious and healthy veggie that deserves some love.
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Lead image source: Crispy Spiced Cauliflower and Okra