Okra is one of those vegetables that people either hate or — if you are like me — just love.
I think the haters either have not tasted it prepared properly or are simply turned-off because of its “slimy” reputation. Okra is, in fact, crunchy, crisp and very delicious when prepared and cooked correctly.
This fiber-rich vegetable, often found in Southern dishes, is originally from Africa and thrives in the blazing heat of humid summers. It is grown year-round in Florida.
When cooked with liquid, okra can, indeed, get slimy or viscous. Cooking okra with plenty of acid — vinegar, citrus juice, tomatoes — is a way to keep it slime-free.
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Stews like gumbo take advantage of the vegetable’s viscous nature to thicken and add body to the dish. Quick cooking and dry heat, however, highlight the crisp, grassy flavor of fresh okra.
Look for smooth, bright-green or purple (they turn bright green when cooked), unblemished pods with a bit of fresh fuzz on the surface. Avoid pods with large brown spots or dry-looking ends.
Most okra is harvested when the pods are between 1 and 4 inches long. Longer pods tend to be tough and are fine for using in stews and gumbos, but shorter pods are better for quicker cooking methods.
Plan on eating okra soon after purchase. Refrigerate okra wrapped in a plastic bag for a few days at most. Trim stems to 1/4 inch so the gelatinous liquid is not released. Small pods can be kept whole while medium pods can be sliced lengthwise, in rounds or diagonally.
Fried okra is one of the tastiest, most addictive treats I know. Just soak okra in buttermilk and then coat with seasoned cornmeal. I like to fry the pods whole, but you can cut the okra into bite-size pieces for smaller snacks.
What could be easier than okra drizzled with a bit of oil and tossed on the grill for about 10 minutes? The speedy, hot heat of the grill keeps the slime-factor to a minimum while the charred bits highlight okra’s key flavors. If you don’t have a grill, okra can be roasted in a 400-degree oven for the same amount of time.
Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school.
Okra Cornmeal Cakes
This recipe is adapted from “Basic to Brilliant, Y’all” by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed, $35). A sparkling wine such as Gloria Ferrer, Sonoma Brut ($22) with its lively citrus and apple flavors and effervescence is delicious with this recipe. Makes 12 small cakes.
2 cups fine yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups water, plus more if needed
8 ounces okra, stems trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 jalapeño, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, mashed into a paste
1/4 cup corn oil, for frying
Line a plate with paper towels; set aside. To prepare the batter, in a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, baking powder, and fine salt. In a second bowl or large liquid measuring cup, combine the egg and water. Add to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Add the okra, jalapeño,and garlic. Stir to combine. (The batter is thick, but should be wet, not dry. Add water as needed; the amount will depend on the size grind of the cornmeal.)
To fry the griddle cakes, heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Scoop 1/4 cup of batter onto the heated skillet and press into an even layer. Repeat with additional batter, without crowding. Cook the cakes until the bottoms are brown and bubbles form on the tops and edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and brown the other side, an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the paper towel-lined plate. While hot, season with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 132 calories (19 percent from fat) 2.7 g fat, (0.4 g sat fat, 0.8 g mono fat) 15 cholesterol, 2.7 g protein, 23 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 252 mg sodium.
This recipe is adapted from “Lighten Up, Y’all” by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed, $24.99). Makes 6 servings.
1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 pound fresh okra pods, stemmed and cut into 3/4-inch slices
Organic nonstick cooking spray
Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Combine the cornmeal and cayenne pepper in a shallow dish. Season heartily with salt and pepper; set aside. Whisk together the buttermilk and egg in a large bowl. Add the okra and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine and set aside to coat, about 3 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the okra from the buttermilk mixture and dredge in the cornmeal mixture. Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven and spray with cooking spray. Place the coated okra on the heated pan and lightly coat the okra with additional cooking spray. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring once. Stir and spray again. Cook until crispy and dark golden brown, 10 to 12 additional minutes. Remove from the oven and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 121 calories (14 percent from fat) 2 g fat, (0.6 g sat fat, 0.6 g mono fat) 32 cholesterol, 5 g protein, 22 carbohydrates, 3.9 g fiber, 41 mg sodium.