Okra 101 – The Basics

Okra seems to be one of those vegetables that you either love or hate. Despite its delicious flavor, many people dislike okra because of its gelatinous nature. Yet, that gel can be used to our advantage if we know how to use it (and how to minimize it). I cover a lot of the ins and outs of dealing with okra in the video below. My notes are below the video for your personal use. Enjoy!

I hope this helps!

Okra 101 – The Basics

About Okra
Okra is a member of the mallow plant family, and is grown in tropical and warm climates. The seeds contain a lot of mucilage, which gives okra its reputation for being “slimy” when cooked. The seeds release a sticky gel, so okra is commonly used in Southern cooking to thicken stews and gumbos. It is also used in Indian, Middle Eastern and African cooking.

Nutrition Tidbits
Okra is abundant in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. These combined factors make okra valuable in supporting cardiovascular health by reducing cholesterol, improving type 2 diabetes and digestive disorders with its fiber content, improving eyesight with its beta-carotene, and even helping to fight some cancers. Its abundant calcium and magnesium helps to support strong bones. Furthermore, its amino acid content makes it an additional source of protein in the diet.

How to Select Okra
Look for smooth, unblemished pods with bright color. The stem ends will brown quickly after being cut from the plant, so a little browning on that end is fine. Avoid pods with large brown spots, dry looking ends or any shriveled areas.

Pods are usually harvested when they are between 1 and 4 inches long. Pods longer than that will be tough. However, the tougher ones can still be used for long cooking in soups and stews.

How to Store Okra
Store okra loosely wrapped in a plastic bag or in the plastic container it was packed in from the grocery store. Use it as soon as possible after buying it. Store it dry; do not wash okra until you are ready to use it. If they become soft and/or brown, it’s time to toss them.

How to Preserve Okra
Okra can be frozen, but it should be very fresh when frozen. If the pod snaps easily, it’s still good for freezing. Wash them then cut off the stem ends. Blanch whole small pods for 3 minutes, large pods for 4 minutes. Quickly cool them in ice water and drain well. The pods can then be frozen whole or sliced then frozen, depending upon how they will be used later. Use frozen whole okra within one year and sliced pods within nine months.

Some people will slice and bread okra before freezing it so it can be baked or fried later. When doing this, slice your blanched okra then dredge it with cornmeal or whatever flour mixture you prefer. Place the breaded okra on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and place that in the freezer. Once frozen individually, they can be placed in a freezer bag or container for later use.

Okra can also be dried and ground into a powder that is used as a thickening agent. According to the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, okra does not need pretreatment before being dehydrated. Wash, trim, slice crosswise in 1/8 to ¼-inch pieces, and dehydrate for 8 to 10 hours at the temperature recommended by your dehydrator’s manufacturer.

How to Prepare Okra
Wash the pods well, and allow them to dry before cutting them (to minimize the release of the gel which happens when it comes in contact with liquid). Cut off the stem end, then use as needed, whole or sliced.

Cooking/Serving Methods
Okra can be eaten raw or pickled. However, it is more often cooked than eaten raw. As stated earlier it is often sliced and added to soups and stews as a thickening agent. It can also be roasted, boiled, steamed, battered and fried, sautéed, and grilled.

To reduce the “slime” cook okra whole, or slice it into big chunks. Quick cooking methods like sautéing, grilling or frying okra makes it crispy rather than slimy. Some cooks recommend soaking okra in a mixture of vinegar and water for 30 to 60 minutes before cooking it. Some chefs recommend adding some lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or tomatoes during the cooking process to reduce the gel.

Embrace the “slime” by taking advantage if this property to thicken soups, stews, or gumbos.

Boil: Cover okra with 1 inch of water and boil just until tender when pierced (5 to 10 minutes). Drain.

Steam: Arrange whole okra on a steaming rack. Steam until just tender when pierced (8 to 15 minutes).

Grill: Toss okra with a bit of oil and place them on the grill for about 10 minutes. The charred bits of grilled okra highlight the flavor of the pods.

Serving Ideas:
* Top hot cooked okra with butter and a drizzle of lemon juice. Sprinkle with chopped chives and/or parsley.

* Add cooked okra slices to an omelet with chopped tomatoes and ham. Sprinkling this with a little shredded cheese would be like “icing on the cake.”

* Top cooked okra with a pesto made of cilantro, toasted pine nuts, and fresh lime juice.

* Blanch and cool okra, and serve as (or with) a salad with French dressing.

* Do not cook okra in cast iron, tin, copper or brass pans. Although it will be safe to eat, the metals will discolor the okra.

* Okra will get a sticky texture when overcooked.

* Okra does not puree well.

* The flavor of okra is similar to that of eggplant and has been used as a substitute for eggplant.

* Salt okra after being cooked, just before serving. Salting the cooking water or the okra itself during cooking will bring out the slimy texture. To enhance the flavor of okra, cook it with onions and/or garlic.

Herbs/Spices That Go Well With Okra
Oregano, sage, basil, garlic, curry powder, salt, and thyme all go well with okra. Southeast Asian cooks will often flavor okra with cumin, turmeric, coriander, or garam masala. Cooks in the American South will often pair okra with chili, cumin, and ground black pepper.

Other Foods That Go Well With Okra
Onions, lamb, beef, pork, shrimp, corn, rice, peppers, tomatoes, dried apricots, eggplant, coriander, lemon, celery, garlic and vinegar all pair well with okra.

Recipe Links
Easy Roasted Okra http://foodandnutrition.org/blogs/stone-soup/making-case-okra-multitasking-southern-staple/

Zesty Roasted Okra https://www.aspicyperspective.com/zesty-roasted-okra/#comments

Roasted Okra, Corn, and Tomato Salsa http://www.mjandhungryman.com/roasted-okra-corn-tomato-salsa/

Lemon and Parmesan Grilled Okra https://www.5pointsblue.com/the-play-book-lemon-parmesan-grilled-okra/

Okra with Tomatoes https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/okra-with-tomatoes-recipe-2103770

Roasted Okra https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/204478/roasted-okra/

The 10 Okra Recipes That Will Showcase the Best of the Southern Delicacy https://www.wideopeneats.com/10-okra-recipes-that-even-okra-haters-will-love/

Sautéed Okra with Onions and Garlic http://www.farmfreshtoyou.com/recipes/166/sauteed-okra-with-onions-and-garlic

Garlic Sautéed Okra https://www.thespruceeats.com/garlic-sauteed-okra-2217555

Fried Okra https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/22176/fried-okra/

Skillet Roasted Spiced Okra (with 3,178 5-star ratings) https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/skillet-roasted-spiced-okra

About Judi
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.










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