Okra

 

Learn how to become an okra lover, if you aren’t one already!

Okra has an undeserved bad rap. Typically, when tell people I’m cooking with okra, they make a face and tell me about their one bad okra experience. Well sure, probably because of how it  was prepared! Indeed, you can’t just munch on raw okra or nuke it; a bit of finesse is necessary to get it right. The texture is unforgiving and it tends to become slimy if it’s not cooked properly.

Popular in southern cooking but gaining popularity up north, okra is different than any other veggie out there. Sort of like a cross between a bell pepper and a snap pea, its 5-sided shape allows slicing into “stars” or eaten whole (stems removed). It is often found at Indian restaurants, sautéed in curry sauce (Bhindi Masala) or crispy fried with savory curry seasonings. Okra is low in calories and a fantastic source of fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, and magnesium. It’s a pretty good calcium source as well; one skinny 40-calorie serving gives you 10% of your daily needs. Its versatility, mild flavor, and outstanding nutritional profile make it make it the perfect choice for weight loss and appetite control.

The height of okra season is right now, mid-summer -- but it’s available year round, fresh and frozen. At the store or farmer’s market, choose brightly colored, firm, unbroken pods. Try to gather pods of similar size so that they cook evenly. Store unsliced okra in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to a week, depending on its initial freshness. Never store cut up okra, because as soon as the pod opens the insides will start to break down and get gooey.

To clean your okra, gently rinse with cool water and massage away dirt and debris. For a winter treat, buy freshly harvested okra in the summer and freeze for later — the several steps are worth it! Wash first, slice off the tips (not the whole cap; don’t expose the seeds); blanch the pods (boil for 3-4 minutes depending on size), plunge immediately to an ice water bath for the same amount of time you blanched them, and spread pods out to dry. Then slice each pod into chunks, place on a baking sheet (pieces not touching), and freeze for an hour. Place the okra in a plastic freezer bag, expel as much air as possible, and freeze for up to 6 months. They’ll be ready to add to a stew or casserole when your next okra craving strikes!

 

De-slime Mealtime

 

Texture is key to perfect okra. It’s that gooey slime that makes people run away from the table, so try these techniques to achieve okra excellence.

Wetness ups the slime factor, so don’t wash the okra until you are ready to cook it.

Let it sit at room temperature for about an hour before using it.

Limit how much you cut it to reduce the goo. If you do need to slice it, do 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.

The longer you cook okra, and the higher the temperature, the more it dries out. When I do stir fries and curries, I just keep tossing it in the hot pan until the goo’s gone.

You’ll find tricks online, like soaking the okra in vinegar for 30 minutes before using. This works too, but it’s not necessary to “pretreat.”

 

Simple Roasted Okra

 

You can find all sorts of recipes online for hearty gumbo and delicate curries featuring okra, but this is one go-to recipe that is quick, easy, and versatile. It will also help get you comfortable with okra, inspiring creativity with flavor profiles. You can also add this okra, once roasted, to other recipes. This recipe doubles easily; as it is, it serves 2 as a side dish.

1/2 pound okra

1 tbsp olive oil

salt and black pepper

Set the oven to 500 degrees. Clean okra and trim off the caps. Toss with olive oil in a roasting pan until evenly coated, and sprinkle on salt and pepper. Shake so that the okra is all on one layer. Roast for 10 minutes, shake, and roast an additional 5 to 15 minutes, until the okra softens and dries out. Serves 2.

Per Serving:

99 calories
7 grams fat
1 gram saturated fat
0 mg cholesterol
8 grams carbs
4 grams fiber
1 gram sugar
0 grams added sugar
2.3 grams protein
92 mg calcium
1 mg iron
 
 

by Dina Aronson, MS, RDN

SUBSCRIBE TO NEWSLETTERGet our 7 Day Head Start E-book for FREE!