How to Cook Okra
It's most popular in the South, but okra deserves a chance no matter where you live. This crisp, tender and mild-tasting vegetable is more versatile than you might think.
This highly-underrated Southern side dish deserves more love! Not sure how to cook okra? Then read on to learn how to deep-fry, grill and roast this vegetable, plus how to choose the best okra at the farmers market.
What Is Okra?
Okra is a pod with edible seeds, and it comes from the mallow family. The long, thick green pods are nicknamed “ladies’ fingers” in some parts of the country. A native of Ethiopia, okra grows well in hot, humid climates. It’s commonly enjoyed in India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Mexico, as well as the American South.
Look for okra at grocery stores and farmers markets from May through September. You want smallish, firm okra pods that are free from blemishes or discoloration. To keep okra fresh, be sure to store it in the refrigerator.
In the off-season, you can buy pre-chopped and frozen okra.
What Does Okra Taste Like?
Okra has a fairly mild flavor: slightly sweet, slightly grassy, a bit like green beans or eggplant.
What okra is most known for (or notorious for) is its texture. Okra cells release mucilage when sliced, making the vegetable slimy and slippery. This viscuous texture makes okra a valuable addition to soups, since it thickens up the soup without added flour or thickeners (ideal for gluten-free or low-carb eaters).
If you have an aversion to okra’s slimy side, the good news is that most cooking methods for okra will eliminate the goo. Cooking okra at high temperatures effectively banishes the slime, which is why grilling and frying are popular methods. Soaking in vinegar also helps, hence pickled okra. Chefs also suggest chopping it coarsely, as fewer cuts means less slime.
How to Cook Okra
Okra is most commonly cooked in gumbo or added to a stew or curry. It’s worth eating on its own, though, especially paired with a classic Southern recipe. The most popular ways to prepare okra use quick heat to bring out its delightful crunch.
- 1-1/2 cups sliced fresh or frozen okra, thawed
- 3 tablespoons buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornmeal
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic herb seasoning blend
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- Oil for deep-fat frying
- Additional salt and pepper, optional
Step 1. Slice and dry
If using fresh okra, slice in half lengthwise. No need to worry about slime here! When okra is deep-fried, the high heat zaps the mucilage.
Pat the okra dry, whether using fresh or frozen.
Step 2. Batter
Place buttermilk in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, seasoning blend and pepper. Dip okra in buttermilk, then roll in cornmeal mixture.
Step 3. Fry
In an electric skillet or deep-fat fryer, heat 1 inch of oil to 375°F. Fry okra, a few pieces at a time, for 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
Step 4. Season
If desired, season with additional salt and pepper, or spices like smoked paprika or garlic salt.
- 1 pound medium okra pods
- Half a lemon
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Your favorite dipping sauce (we recommend remoulade or curry dip)
Step 1. Skewer the okra
Depending on the size of your okra, you can likely skewer the okra whole. Don’t even trim the ends. (This route completely eliminates the slime factor, although the high heat will zap any slime if you do slice.) For very large pods, thread the metal or soaked wooden skewer lengthwise through the entire okra.
If you want to fit more than one large okra on each skewer, then slice the pods in half. With small- or medium-sized pods, things are easier; thread the skewer through the middle of the okra, fitting about eight pods per skewer.
Step 2. Prepare the grill
Prepare a gas or charcoal grill on the hottest heat setting, turning all the burners on high for a gas grill or lighting a full chimney of charcoal. Close the lid and allow the heat to build for 15 minutes.
Step 3. Cook
Place the okra skewers on the hottest part of the grill. Cook until they are lightly charred, about 3 minutes per side.
Step 4. Season
Remove the okra from the grill and squeeze the lemon over the skewers. Sprinkle the okra with kosher salt and serve hot with the dipping sauce of your choice.
- 1 pound fresh okra, trimmed and cut lengthwise in half
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Step 1. Slice
Preheat the oven to 400°. Slice the okra. Cutting in half lengthwise makes them slim enough to cook evenly, but minimizes cuts to keep slime at bay.
Step 2. Season
Toss okra with oil, salt and pepper. You can play with flavors, too; consider lemon juice, olive oil, smoked paprika and/or garlic powder.
Arrange in a 15x10x1-inch baking pan, cut side up.
Step 3. Roast
Roast 12-15 minutes or until the okra is tender and lightly browned at the bottom.
More Popular Okra Recipes
How to Store Okra
Fresh okra can be stored, completely dry, in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer, loosely wrapped in plastic. Eat within two to three days, before the texture becomes limp or spots appear.
How to Freeze Okra
You may freeze fresh okra. Arrange the clean, dry pods on a baking sheet, freeze until solid and then store in a tightly sealed plastic bag.