Okra! A beautiful pointy summer vegetable also known as “lady’s finger” loved by many people. Especially in southern cooking you will see a number of recipes of this vegetable such as battered fried okra, okra hush puppies, or gumbo. While many people enjoy it, it’s definitely not welcome by a home cook. Why is that? We’ll be talking about that today and showing how cooking okra can be made enjoyable.
Recently, when I was in a local grocery store picking up my okra supply, a lady approached me and asked me how I cook them. Does its sliminess not bother me? I briefly explained how to avoid that “slimy stuff” she was referring to but she did not seem to be interested in my story. It’s amazing that just because of a special attribute, a whole vegetable can become totally unforgivable to people.
Another memory of okra: A few years back, at one of my dinner parties at home, I prepared Indian-style fried okra. Everyone enjoyed it a lot and also asked me for the recipe, but all of them agreed that it was too hard to prepare due to okra’s slimy nature. So, I thought of including a very simple recipe here to show how to handle this little vegetable that creates havoc in everyone’s kitchen.
Okra has been my favorite since I was little as my mom used to prepare it in several different ways. In Indian cuisine you’ll see a number of recipes where this little veggie becomes the star of the dish, including whole grilled okra, simply sautéed okra, spiced-up okra, okra in a spicy tomato sauce, stuffed okra and many more. I never thought that this vegetable, although I loved it so much, was worth mentioning in a recipe book or a blog. It always seemed like a common staple to me and very easy to prepare. But once I started cooking okra myself, I found that a few careful steps were needed to avoid that slimy annoyance while cooking!
Remember that okra tends to get slimy when it comes into contact with water or is cooked under steam. To prevent this, follow the steps below:
Wash and dry before cooking: Wash the okra, pat dry, and spread it on a paper-lined tray. Once it is dry (about 30 minutes), cut the vegetable in your desired size and spread it again on a paper towel to dry for at least 30 more minutes before you start cooking.
Do not cook it covered: Make sure that you cook the okra uncovered. Cooking with a cover will steam the vegetable and the added moisture will make it slimy.
Add salt and spices at the end: Do not add any salt or dry spices until the okra are half cooked. The dry spices and salt draw out the moisture from okra and make it slimy. If you are making dry fried okra, add salt and spices at the end of cooking, after the okra is almost cooked and browned. This is the same concept as browning mushrooms before adding salt to it.
So, let’s begin with a simple recipe of sautéed okra!
½ lb. okra
2 tbsp. coconut oil/ghee/butter or any fat of your choice
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. Curry Powder
½ tsp. Garam Masala Powder
¼ tsp. red chili powder/cayenne pepper powder (optional)
1 tsp lime juice or raw mango powder (available in Indian grocery stores)
1. Wash the okra and pat dry with a kitchen towel. Spread the okra on a paper towel-lined baking sheet to dry completely. The okra must be dry before it is cut.
2. Cut okra into medium thick slices.
3. Heat oil/ghee/butter on medium heat in a heavy skillet.
4. Add cumin seeds and let it sizzle.
5. Add onion and fry until it is lightly brown.
6. Add okra, minced ginger, and turmeric. Stir once and cook uncovered without stirring for about 2-3 minutes until the okra starts browning. Flip them carefully without stirring too much which may cause it to become slimy. You may see very few slimy strings developing which you can ignore. They'll disappear once the okra is well cooked and browned on all sides.
7. Add salt and all the other spices and cook for a couple more minutes until the okra is coated well with the spices and is slightly crisp.
8. Sprinkle the lime juice/mango powder and stir once. This adds a refreshing tanginess to the dish. Serve it hot as a side dish.
This dry fried okra goes very well with rice and Indian flat bread such as roti, chapatti, or paratha.
Dr. Gayatri Borthakur, a nutritionist turned entrepreneur, has a PhD in nutrition and a passion for delicious but healthy foods.