Many people believe that okra is naturally slimy, so they avoid cooking it. Okra does have a substance inside it that acts as a natural thickener, and this is useful if you are making gumbo or another dish where the ingredients need to come together in a stew. However, you can keep your okra slime-free and crunchy by following a few tips.
Keep the Okra Whole
When you cut the okra, you release the liquid inside that makes okra feel slimy. Simply pull off the stem and cook the pods whole. If you need small pieces of okra, just purchase smaller pods instead of cutting larger pods into pieces. You may be able to find small pods at your grocery store or farmer's market, or just sort through the okra pods and choose the smaller ones. These pods are ripe, just smaller.
Cut in the Right Place
Cut the okra pods in a way to release the slime and cook it off. On each okra pod, beneath the stem, is a ridge that goes around the top of the okra pod. If you cut just above this ridge you will expose holes in the pod. These holes will allow some of the fluid to escape during cooking, but not enough so the okra becomes a gooey mess in the pan. Then chop the okra or serve it as-is.
Add Lemon or Lime Juice
If you need to cook the okra in smaller sections or pieces, reduce the amount of slime by adding a teaspoon of lemon or lime juice to the cooking water as you boil the okra. The acidity in the lemon or lime juice will react with the liquid from the okra and reduce its slippery texture. Caribbean cooks have used this trick for years and you probably won't notice the additional citrus flavor in the okra because okra has a strong flavor that is not easily overpowered.
Saute the Gumbo
If you are sauteing the okra, cook it long enough so that the slime disappears. Sauteing the okra for 10 to 12 minutes should be enough to do the trick. If the okra browns a little in the process, it only adds to the flavor. Spice up the dish by adding piquant salad dressing mix as you saute the okra. If you are making an okra side dish, consider adding tomato quarters and sliced onions. This is a classic combination and the acidity in the tomato cuts the slime.
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Natalie Smith is a technical writing professor specializing in medical writing localization and food writing. Her work has been published in technical journals, on several prominent cooking and nutrition websites, as well as books and conference proceedings. Smith has won two international research awards for her scholarship in intercultural medical writing, and holds a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric.