As a native New Yorker, my first experience with okra was as in culinary school not too long ago. We got a huge crate of these green, fuzzy pods during the summer, and I was supposed to make a family meal for the rest of the culinary school. No big deal. Panic was setting in when one of our chefs came over and taught me a valuable life lesson: When you don’t know how to cook something, you can usually fry it. I cut into one of the pods and tasted it. The earthy, slimy insides just didn’t do it for me. But I followed the chef’s instructions: I dipped them in buttermilk and cornmeal, then tossed them into the deep fryer and finished with some kosher salt. It was love at first bite.
Okra is a staple in Southern cuisine, whether it’s stewed with tomatoes or in a Creole gumbo. But it’s also popular in African, Indian and Caribbean cuisines, acting as a thickening agent in stews and served over rice. Okra is a good source of fiber, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C. Pick out young, small okra pods (about 3 inches in length), as the larger and older pods become very woody in flavor and texture. Store the pods in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for two to three days. Avoid using copper, iron or brass cookware, which turns the color of okra to an unappetizing brown. Although okra is available in many parts of the country year round, it’s at its peak throughout the summer. Start stocking up, because here are 25 ways to use okra:
- Emeril’s Spicy Pickled Okra or Aaron McCargo, Jr.’s Pickled Peppers and Okra make for fantastic Bloody Mary garnishes.
- A seamless blend of Spanish and Creole cuisine: Mila’s Paella Jambalaya
- Make a batch of Alton Brown’s Pickled Okra and use some for Southern tea sandwiches like Pickled Okra Sandwiches.
- Another way to use up the pickled okra you just made: Georgia Rainbow Trout with Butter Bean Succotash, which utilizes lots of summer veggies for a light and quick meal.
- South Indian Spicy Lentil Stew takes Meatless Monday to the next level with the addition of tamarind paste. If you can’t find any tamarind paste at your local Asian specialty market, substitute with lime or lemon juice mixed with brown sugar. Sambhar masala is often a spicy curry powder used in Southern India, usually available at specialty Indian markets. To avoid confusion in this recipe, know that cilantro seeds and coriander seeds are the same thing.
- Gumbo reinvented for the grill: Spicy Cajun Skewers with Spicy Buffalo Dipping Sauce
- Jamaican Pepper Pot Soup is a delicious traditional Caribbean stew made with okra, salt beef and (don’t get grossed out) pigs tails. If you can’t find callaloo, a local leafy green, substitute with fresh spinach.
- Gumbo is nothing without the okra that breaks down and helps thicken the stew. Try some top gumbo recipes: Cajun Okra Gumbo with Andouille, Chicken and Crab with Fried Okra Croutons (pictured at top), Emeril’s Seafood Okra Gumbo or go all-out with Bobby Flay’s Shellfish and Andouille Gumbo with Shrimp, Scallops, Clams and Oysters with Crispy Okra.
- Cou-Cou, Cornmeal with Okra, is popular in Barbados and throughout the rest of the Caribbean under different names like coo-coo, coucou, turn corn or turnmeal. Pair it with flying fish (or substitute with tilapia or any other mild white fish) to create the national dish of Barbados.
- A quick coating of chickpea flour helps crisp up the Spiced Fried Okra and add a nutty flavor to the mix. Chaat masala, an Indian spice mix, and amchoor, an unripe green mango powder, can be found at specialty Asian or Indian markets.
- A bottle of dark beer and adobo sauce are the secret weapons in Roger Mooking’s Okra Chili.
- Quimbombo is another word for okra, but it can also refer to a stew that utilizes the pod. When making Quimbombo (Stew with Pork and Plantain Dumplings) add the okra during the last 15 minutes of cooking to prevent it from turning mushy.
- If you’re firing up the grill, Barbecued Okra makes for a great side dish. Paprika, coriander, cayenne pepper and celery seed all work together to brighten up the earthy flavor of okra.
- A warm salad of Spiced Okra pairs really well with homemade paneer, a fresh Indian cheese similar to queso blanco, which is really easy to make.
- The dish for every okra skeptic: the simple and delicious Crispy Cornmeal Okra. A chipotle sour cream dipping sauce definitely doesn’t hurt.
- Okra is often paired with acidic flavors like lemon juice or tomatoes to balance out the earthy, woody flavors. Stewed Okra and Tomatoes has all the comfort of a ratatouille, but with a little kick of hot sauce.
- Emeril’s fully fried recipe for Fried Okra, Eggplant and Shrimp with Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce is deliciously sinful. If you want to indulge without going overboard, serve the fried veggies and shrimp as a side dish to a baked fish.
- When’s the last time you gave oxtails a try? Braised Oxtails with Sweet Potato Pudding and Fried Okra is your chance to experiment with the cut of meat. The relatively fatty pieces of cow tail have marrow inside the bones that oozes out and creates a rich meal after hours of braising. Plus, who can resist a sweet potato pudding with vanilla and bourbon mixed in?
- A one-pan meal that boasts less than 500 calories per serving, Turkey and Okra Skillet Dinner is a winner in my book.
- Store-bought smoked pork chops plus fresh summer veggies means that Smoked Pork Chops with Corn and Okra will be on the table in just about 30 minutes.
- Yankee Okra, or okra sauteed in olive oil with garlic, crushed red pepper, thyme and basil, pairs the flavors you know and love with an ingredient that you will soon be familiarizing yourself with.
- Wok-Fired Okra Sambal is a spicy side dish that would go well with Hungry Girl’s Sweet ‘n Sticky Sesame Chicken. Peanut oil has a smoke point of about 450 degrees F, which is a great option for high-heat woks.
- The best way to impress company is to serve each guest an individual fowl for dinner. Bobby Flay’s recipe for Cornish Hens Stuffed with Couscous with Okra and Tomatoes looks more difficult (impressive) than it really is.
- Toss together some Boston lettuce, fresh peppers and okra with a quick red wine vinaigrette for a super simple Okra Salad.
- Mafe is a Senegalese stew that features peanut butter, lots of vegetables and a protein like chicken or lamb. When making African Stew, try finding a completely natural peanut butter (or make your own, courtesy Alton Brown).
More 25 Ways: