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.