Okra inspires a lot of passion. People either love it or hate it, and all the fuss is over its texture. If you don’t like okra because you’ve only had slimy experiences, the truth is you need to blame the cook, not the okra.
Okra is capable of so many things, and when handled right, it can be slime-free and sublime. Before any of us write it off for good, let’s learn how to treat it better. There’s an okra preparation for everyone; if anything, you just haven't found the right one yet!
This guide is for the lovers and the haters. Here’s what you need to know to help okra reach its full potential.
What Is Okra and When Is It in Season?
Okra belongs to the mallow family, and some of its relatives are hibiscus, cotton, and hollyhocks. Okra season can start as Early as May, and it goes into some of September. July and August are the pinnacle of the season.
Grocery stores will have fresh okra when it’s in season, and frozen okra year-round. As always, if you’re looking for the most variety and freshness, your local farmers’ market is the place to be.
Varieties of Okra
There are thousands of varieties of okra in the world. They come in varying shades of green or red. Within each color family, you’ll find pods that are skinny, wide, squat, curved, elongated, and some with ridges running from stem to tip. Two varieties that are very commonly grown in the U.S. are Clemson Spineless and Burgundy.
What Does Okra Taste Like?
For anyone who’s never gotten past the texture to notice the taste, it’s similar to eggplant, but with a green-tasting grassiness. Some varieties you encounter might have hints of sweetness or nuttiness.
How to Select Okra
When selecting okra, choose pods that are tender but firm, and a little springy. Stay away from anything that feels limp, has mushy spots, or is browning or yellowing anywhere. The ideal size is around 4 inches. The pods get hard and woody as they get bigger.
How to Store Okra
It’s best to eat okra soon after it’s been harvested. If you’re going to eat it the day you buy it, leave it on the counter. Otherwise, store the pods in a paper bag in the warmest part of the fridge (top shelf, at the front, on the side of the door opening) for 2-3 days max, but do yourself a favor and keep to the shorter side of that timeframe.
Very important: It’s important to keep okra dry.
How to Cook Okra (and Minimize Any Slimy Texture!)
You may already know about gumbo and cornmeal-dredged fried okra. We love them, but okra is very versatile and good for so much more. Try it raw, boiled, roasted, pickled, grilled, seared, stewed with tomatoes and any kind of spice — you get the idea. When it comes to cooking okra, we’ve got options, and there’s one out there to change the mind of every okra hater.
Texture is the thing that the okra-averse harp on. The technical term is “mucilaginous,” which I think is much more unpleasant-sounding than the word “slimy,” which is what it is. Okra doesn’t always have to be that way, though! There are things you can do to minimize the issue.
Keep the following in mind, and you might convince someone to end their hate on okra.
How to Prevent Slimy Okra
- Always thoroughly dry okra before you start cutting. The first thing you need to know is that when liquids interact with okra’s flesh, the slime-factor increases.
- Cook okra first before you make the rest of the dish. A smart practice for minimizing okra/liquid contact is to cook your okra first, set it aside while you’re making the rest of the dish, then add it at the end. Dry heat or high heat are recommended here. Cut your okra into whichever shape you like and choose your method: cook on a dry nonstick skillet, or give it a short spin in a small amount of very hot oil. Either way, when your okra is flecked with toasty golden spots, set it aside.
- Keep it raw or whole. Keeping it raw never hurts. Raw okra is crunchy, which is a texture most people don’t mind. Keeping pods whole is another good approach. They can handle any application — go ahead and steam, blanch, roast, grill, and boil with confidence, knowing that the insides aren’t being exposed to slime-encouraging liquids.
- Add acid. Acid will minimize mucilage, so add lemon or vinegar to a dish, or cook okra with things that are naturally acidic, like tomatoes. Some cooks swear by soaking okra in a combination of water and vinegar or lemon juice for 30 minutes before cooking.
- When in doubt, cook okra with tomatoes. Have you ever heard the phrase “what grows together goes together”? It’s an absolute truth, and okra and tomatoes are a prime example. They’re both summer fruits that we treat like vegetables, and they both hit their highest peak in July and August. The acidity in tomatoes tames okra’s texture, and their flavors complement each other so well that every okra-appreciating culture in the world has some kind of okra+tomato dish. They’re a perfect pair, the whole world says so.
How to Freeze Okra
Okra is good at being frozen. Blanch whole pods. You can leave them whole or slice them into coins. put them in a bag, remove as much air as possible, and freeze for the future.
- Chicken Gumbo with Andouille Sausage
- Stewed Okra and Tomatoes, Creole-Style
- Seared Okra and Tomatoes
- Pickled Okra