Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She & her husband, known online as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.
Okra: A Most Versatile Vegetable
Okra is famous, of course, for the Southern-fried method of cooking, and it tastes sinfully delicious when it's properly cooked that way. Unfortunately, frying everything is what has earned the southeastern part of the United States the name of "Cardiac Belt"—even though it may not look "greasy," the food soaks up a lot of the oil.
Many of us Southerners are trying to eat healthier diets, and there are other equally delicious ways to cook this versatile vegetable. Below, I will share six ways to cook okra—some I have used and loved, some I have as of yet only read about.
The 6 Ways I Know to Cook Okra
- Stewing With Tomatoes
- Adding to Vegetable Soup
- Making Okra Soup
1. Grilled Okra
During the time since we stopped frying food about 20 years ago, we didn't eat much okra at our house. But since we discovered that we could grill okra, this method has become our favorite way to cook this vegetable.
- I remove the caps but otherwise leave the individual pods whole.
- Put them on two parallel skewers as shown above. When using only one skewer, the pods tend to spin around, with some turning one way and others turning another way, causing them to become difficult to handle. Using double skewers takes care of that problem.
- Place them on your grill and watch them closely so they don't burn. You will need to turn them, of course, until they are slightly browned on both sides.
Skewers for Grilling That Okra, and Lots of Other Small Foods
2. Broiled or Baked Okra
When it's too rainy or cold to use the outdoor grill, try putting okra into the oven. I know you're wondering where I got the okra if the weather is too cold. Well, I got it from my freezer, of course! In this photo is some fresh okra ready for the oven.
- Brush the okra with olive oil, then sprinkle on some garlic powder.
- Bake the okra at 350 F. for about 20 minutes.
- Then, turn the oven to "broil" just long enough to brown the okra. Be careful not to let it burn.
I tried conducting a little experiment once. I brushed all the okra with olive oil, then put garlic powder on half and just a tiny bit of kosher salt on the other half. It was all good, but the half with garlic powder won unanimously. This has become one of our favorite ways to enjoy this delicious vegetable.
3. Okra and Tomatoes
Before my husband convinced me to try it, I did not believe I would like okra and tomatoes cooked together. When I tried it, I didn't just like it—I loved it! I was truly surprised at the texture and flavor of this old Southern favorite. It's also so very easy to prepare.
- Just cut both the okra and tomatoes into small pieces.
- Add your favorite seasonings. For me, it's a little salt and garlic powder.
- Stew them together on the stove top or in the microwave.
Nothing could be easier. When my okra plants are bearing daily, I have plenty of this delicious vegetable to savor.
Read More From Delishably
4. Vegetable Soup With Okra
I always include slices of okra in my soup. If I don't have any fresh or homegrown okra in my freezer, I buy small bags of it from my grocery store. I prefer my own homegrown veggies because I know they are organically grown, but sometimes we have to buy them. If I need to buy them in season before my own plants are bearing, I go to a local farmers' market. I enjoy getting to know the vendors, and I know the food is fresh.
Developing a relationship with local growers is a really good thing, as they will often save something for you when their supply is running low, and they always sincerely appreciate your business.
5. Okra Soup
I have never made okra soup. I had never even heard of it until I read Folly Beach, a book by Dorothea Benton Frank. I searched the phrase "okra soup" and found several recipes. Some are vegetarian and some are not. One used chuck roast, one used bacon, all used various herbs. Mostly, though, the photos looked very much like my homemade vegetable soup, shown above, while another looked like just okra and tomatoes in a brothy liquid.
I Love My Stainless Steel Stock Pot
The Old Southern Standard: Fried Okra
6. Fried Okra
In the photo above, you see fried. Not everyone batters it. Some people just coat it with flour, some coat it with cornmeal, and others use a mixture of both flour and cornmeal. Like most Southerners of my generation, I grew up eating almost everything fried or covered in gravy. It's amazing so many of us lived to tell about it. One of the most delicious and typically "Southern" vegetables in this country is fried okra. Believe it or not, there is more than one way to fry it. Please understand, however, I am not promoting the consumption of fried foods.
When you think of okra, do you picture it battered and fried? If done right, this method is delicious, but it can go wrong in several ways:
- It'll be greasy and soggy if it's cooked too slowly or in too much oil.
- It'll be hard if it's cooked for too long.
Most people who still fry food deep-fry their okra. My mom, however, used to put very shallow oil in a skillet and fry it. Most people like it crispy. She liked it soft, so she put a lid on it and "smothered" it. Her okra had some crunchy areas but was mostly soft. Years later, I learned this was because she had some places in her mouth that were irritated by crunchy (or what she called "hard") foods -- but I digress.
Another must-have for Southern cooks: the iron skillet
Would You Cook Okra?
Drop me a note, and let me know how you like your okra cooked. If you know of any other ways to cook this delicious vegetable, please let me know. Thanks for visiting.
Questions & Answers
Question: I picked three pods of okra from the garden that seemed hard to begin with. I microwaved for a half-hour in water in the microwave in increments, and they were still rather hard. Is this common?
Answer: If they are hard before cooking, they will be hard after cooking. Also, if they were hard when you picked (cut) them, they were most likely either too young or too old. The hard ones that are not young, I usually leave and let them go to seed for next year.
Question: At what temperature do you bake the okra for 20 min?
Answer: I would bake it at 350 F.
Question: How do you smother okra without slime with tomatoes?
Answer: I'm not sure what you mean by "smother". They are simply cooked together in a stewpan or in a bowl in the microwave. There is no slime because of the liquid that cooks out of the tomatoes. I suppose the acidity of the tomatoes could also help to alleviate the slimy-ness of the okra.
© 2013 MariaMontgomery