Okra’s kinda like cilantro; either you love it or you really, really don’t want it anywhere near your plate. I happen to love okra…and cilantro, for that matter. I grew up on fried okra, stewed okra and tomatoes, gumbo… I really think it has such a nice, unique flavor and the fact that it has its own thickener trapped inside is just plain cool. And by thickener, I mean goo. The goo is what most people don’t like about okra. And I get that, I mean let’s face it- okra is slimy. And slimy is generally not something people associate with good food. But I love it, goo and all.
I worked at a touristy restaurant in college that frequently had fried okra on the menu. There wasn’t a week that went by when someone in a wet, sandy bathing suit didn’t look up at me over their menu at me and ask, “Um..what is okra?” And I had to try to explain to these poor, sunburnt people from upstate somewhere or other what this odd vegetable was and that, even though it’s gooey and slimey and green and horn shaped, it really and truly is delicious, I promise!! (Says the overly perky, blond, southern waitress.) None of them ever ordered it. I shoulda said it had magical beans inside that goo. (You know, come to think of it, I had a lot of the same people ask me what a scallop was, which was equally as challenging to describe…who were these people?)
If Fried Okra is what you’re after all you do is slice the okra horizontally into one inch pieces, soak the pieces in an egg mixture or some buttermilk for a few minutes and then dredge in a seasoned cornmeal mixture and deep fry until golden brown. Salt it after its fried.
If Stewed Okra and Tomatoes is what you want then all you do is saute some minced onion in some olive oil or butter, then add your chopped okra and un-drained, canned, tomatoes (fresh summer tomatoes work well too, you’ll just have the skin-separation problem once they’re cooked). Season with salt and pepper then add a bit of chicken stock if there isn’t enough liquid and allow the veggies to fully soften. Some people start with bacon, but that’s not how I was raised eating it.
But my favorite way to make okra at home is to roast it. I firmly believe that every vegetable is best when roasted. My husband and I first had the idea to roast okra 4 years ago and we felt like pioneers. We looked online and couldn’t find anyone else doing it so we got incredibly giddy. This is the method you should try if you’re one of those goo-scared people because you end up with the crispiest, crunchiest, yummiest version of this vegetable-no goo in sight. And it’s the simplest way to prepare okra.
For Roasted Okra you slice the vegetable in half, lengthwise and place in a roasting pan. Coat in olive oil and season with salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar, (I always add sugar to my roasted vegetables). Toss well to coat and roast at 450 for 15-20 minutes, or until they’re browned and crispy. I love to serve this with something like a pan-seared fish and goat cheese grits, so the entire dinner is a classy, updated version of the down-home meals I grew up on.