Okra is a classic side dish on Southern tables, but savvy moms living anywhere can learn the best ways to cook this crispy pod. Preparing okra properly can be the difference between a palate-pleasing family meal and a slimy taste bud turnoff. When it comes to cooking okra, a few tricks will help you prepare a tasty out-of-the-box or classic recipe for expanding your family's vegetable repertoire.
Choosing and Preparing Okra
The success of your okra dish begins with choosing the most high-quality product and nailing the right preparation. The best okra is young, tender and not too large, so look for pods that are rich in green color, crisp and lacking any mushy dark spots. After you've thoroughly washed your okra, trim each end. If you want to slice it, keep a napkin or towel handy and wipe down your knife often as okra releases a thick, glutinous substance called mucilage when it is cut. You might find frozen okra at your local grocer; breaded varieties can be fried or bake them for a healthier dish. Unbreaded frozen okra is suitable for adding to soups and stews without prepping.
Tips for Frying
Frying okra is the most effective way to dry out and crisp up the vegetable. Fried okra is a classic Southern side dish and is often served as an appetizer or alongside hearty chicken or barbecue dishes. If you're after finger foods, keep the okra whole and coat the pods in seasoned yellow cornmeal before frying them in at least an inch of oil heated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Fried okra is heavy in the fat and calorie department, however, so if you want to keep your meals on the lighter side, chop your okra into thick slices before frying. Instead of offering up the okra as an appetizer, serve a few fried pieces over a bright green salad for unexpected crunch. Or add sliced okra to stir-fry dishes.
Soups and Stews
The gluten in okra's distinctive texture acts as a natural thickener for soups and stews, so you don't have to add flour or cornstarch to your okra-rich soup recipes. Slicing the pods before adding them to your favorite richly spiced gumbos or curries allows the gluten to escape, giving your soup a naturally creamy texture. Okra cooks quickly, so check frequently to avoid overcooking.
You can somewhat replicate the frying effect by roasting your okra. Roasted okra is a refreshing side dish for grilled chicken or steak. Your favorite seasonings pull out the flavor while your okra pods -- which have been tossed lightly with vegetable oil -- roast in a 425-degree Fahrenheit oven until tender. Okra is also suitable for fresh vegetable sautes so long as you ensure that your oil is hot before you add the pods to the pan. Brush whole pods with olive oil and place them on a hot grill, turning often until tender on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside. To serve, simply sprinkle with your favorite seasoned salt and freshly ground pepper. A light ranch dressing makes a cool dipping sauce.