Everyday Food Blog

WTF? What's That Food? It's Okra! (and how to cook it so it's slime-free)

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What is this food?

The mystery vegetable, shown as it grows

It's okra!

I know: Not everyone is a fan. Some just can't get past its slippery texture -- slimy, even. Okra, part of the mallow family (which includes hollyhock, rose of Sharon, and hibiscus), is a mucilaginous vegetable. Believe it or not, it's glutinous juice is prized as a thickener in some dishes. Gumbo, anyone?

Don't let the texture put you off. The flavor is so unique -- sort of a more herby version of an eggplant -- and when cooked correctly, okra actually has no stickiness or sliminess to it. It's true! "Correctly" simply means cooking the okra until there's no trace of stickiness left. This can sometimes mean cooking it for a long time. I find it can take as much as 40 minutes to saute frozen cut okra (the worst offender, to me) to rid it of its slipperiness.

But I've stumbled on a way to cook fresh okra that's not only faster, but truly slime free. Buy whole okra pods and steam them -- whole. Leave the caps on and do not cut them anywhere until the pods are bright green and tender, which should take only 2 to 3 minutes. Once they cool, you can slice and serve, or you give them a quick saute to add additional flavor. My favorite way to eat okra (well, second favorite; in gumbo is the first), is steamed this way and quickly sauteed with fresh corn cut from the cob, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and mushrooms. Summer food at its best.

Okra is not just popular in southern cooking. It pops up in Indian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, African, Mediterranean, and Brazilian cuisine. It's also quite nutritious: Okra is high in fiber, potassium, folate, and calcium, as well as vitamins A and C. Sometimes called Lady Fingers, okra is in season in late summer. (Now!) Look for small- to medium-sized pods. They'll be the most tender. Larger pods tend to be woody and stringy -- and, in fact, the mature pods are used to make fiber for rope and paper in some countries. A cool, but not particularly appetizing fact. Store okra inside a paper bag in your crisper and use within 2 days.

Inspired? Try okra in our Chicken Gumbo or Mixed Vegetable Curry, or fry some up in these Okra Fritters. Like pickles? Okra is excellent this way. Plus, pickled okra is just about perfect as a Bloody Mary garnish.

How do you like to eat your okra?

Comments (11)

  • avatar

    We eat our okra with eggs. First you slightly brown okra in a bit of oil then you add eggs and scramble tomatoe,onions and chili piquin can be added. Dont forget the salt and of course homemade flour or corn tortillas

  • avatar

    My 10 year old daughter loves looking at the martha website for recipe ideas -- I never thought I would have to fend off "mommy what does "WTF" mean?"
    Thanks -- I thought there was at least one website out there that wasn't vulgar.

  • avatar

    I agree with Anna.

  • avatar

    or...it stands for "What's that food?"

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    I slice it and sautee with onions and garlic until it is a little crispy- 10-15 min. The kids LOVE it

  • avatar

    I believe it was established to stand for "what's that food?" It's harmless and fun. Folks shouldn't take it so seriously. However, I don't think I'm going to be an okra fan any time soon.

  • avatar

    I love okra and I wash it after I pick it then dry it with a paper towel. Since I am a very healthy eater I slice it (I use a mandolin on thick slice) then I lighlty dust it with whole wheat flour, pepper and then I spread it on a baking sheet and bake it at 350 until it is nicely browned. If you like it, fry it.

  • avatar

    I think people should stop being so sensitive... Especially those raising our next generation..i love this title. It read my mind exactly!

  • avatar

    Oh dear! Certainly, no offense was intended. WTF? in this case does stand for "What's That Food?" However, if you haven't been following the blog regularly, that might not be clear, so please accept our apologies. We see cooking as something that's nurturing and community-building, which means all points of view are equally important to us. Thanks all for writing in!

  • avatar

    My sister had planted some last year and her girls as well as mine would wash them and eat them raw. They have LOTS of fiber. We also eat them with eggs. For those who like cactus with eggs and red chile powder they would like okra with eggs

  • avatar

    My mother used to make okra with eggs every Sunday after church and it was delicious! One of my fondest childhood memories. :)

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