A lengthy green seedpod that is often mistaken for a pepper, the humble okra is a popular ingredient in many Asian and African cuisines. Also found stewed in gumbo and fried in corn meal on menus all over the American South, this warm-weather plant requires a long, hot growing season.
Grassy and green tasting, each okra pod contains little round white seeds that become crunchy when cooked. A healthy food that is high in fiber, folate, vitamin C and antioxidants, okra is a mucilaginous vegetable whose goo must be dealt with correctly so that you don’t wind up with a slimy green mess.
Outside of the South, okra can be hard to find. Usually appearing in late summer at farmers markets and specialty health stores like Whole Foods, these bright green pods present a new taste and texture for your seasonal cooking. Estimate about ½ pound of fresh okra for each person at the table. The biggest okra pods tend to be woody and tough, so look for smaller okras for a more tender taste.
1. Fried Okra. While frying is not the healthiest choice around, no article about okra could ever be complete without mentioning what is by far the most popular method of cooking: fried to a crisp. Along with hushpuppies, Tabasco and iced tea, fried okra is a beloved menu staple in the southern United States. Simply snip the top of your pods, then slice them into ¼” pieces. Salt and pepper your okra, then cover the pieces with a layer of corn meal so that every piece gets a dusting. You can also add garlic salt, cayenne pepper or other seasonings at this point. Heat a generous amount of vegetable oil (enough to completely cover the bottom of your frying pan) to medium-high, then gently add the okra (take care not to pour in the excess corn meal). Fry until brown on both sides but remember: the secret to cooking good fried okra is not to over-stir. Handle your okra as little as possible, then “take up the mess” onto a paper towel-covered plate to soak up the grease. Enjoy your fried okra piping hot.
2. Grilled Okra. Perfect for summer and easy to make, grilled okra puts a spin on any meal. Heat your grill to high and chop the tops of your okra pods. Toss the okra with a couple of tablespoons of olive or grapeseed oil. With tongs, place the okra on your grill and cover. Cook for 4-5 minutes, turn the okra, and cook for another 4-5 minutes or until the pods are tender. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and eat while hot.
3. Gumbo. Gumbo is okra’s second most popular apparition, and many Southerners don’t consider gumbo to be done unless it includes the funky green vegetable. Okra adds a pop of color to the stew dish along with a gummy consistency. Slice off the tops of your okra, and then cut it then for gumbo – about 1/8”. Add okra to your favorite gumbo recipe one hour before it is done; the sixty minutes of simmering breaks down the okra and dissolves it into the stew.
4. Roasted Okra. Create a tasty finger food with zero cutting and barely any prep. Simply preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, wash your okra pods and cover the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish with a thin layer of olive oil. Add your okra, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir everything around to make sure the okra is coated well with oil and spices. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring your pan of okra every 5 minutes, until the pods are evenly browned on all sides.
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