Okra - in season and 'snot just for frying
August 9th, 2011
10:00 AM ET
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Scorpacciata is a term that means consuming large amounts of a particular local ingredient while it's in season. It's a good way to eat. Let Mario Batali pronounce it for you.

The first time my mother ever cooked for my father, she made okra. If the cuisine of my childhood provides any indication, there's an excellent chance that she defrosted a cube of pods, chucked them into a pot and boiled until floppy. Neither she nor my father is Southern or Indian in upbringing. Okra is not their birthright; they were clearly tempting fate.

My father chewed dutifully, likely made the appropriate "yummy" faces - until my mother took a bite and bolted for the sink. He quickly followed suit, and the story became the stuff of family legend - not to mention a family phobia.

We never ate the stuff growing up. I can't say I ever stumbled across the pods on my suburban supermarket's shelves, and the occasional package surfacing in freezer aisle evoked a full body shudder from whichever parent I was flanking. "Ugh! It's just so...slimy."

Yup – it sure can be. "Snot" is often cited as the closest texture analogue, and that's fair. Okra is a member of the mallow family, and as such contains mucilage - a sticky substance that may seep out when the okra pod is cut.

This is emphasized, and in fact prized in some dishes like gumbo, where it's added to lend both flavor and body, or in a traditionally Southern tomato and okra stew. A splash of vinegar or lemon juice can help cut the slime factor, but the truly ooze-averse cooks tend to default to frying.

Golden brown rounds at a roadside barbecue joint in the shadow of a South Texas mega-church provided my own personal okra redemption. There's much to be said for whole pods or slices dredged in cornmeal flecked with salt and pepper, and fried in the fat of one's choosing. It's darned delicious, and minimal in slime, but it's also, ya know - fried. Can't do that every day.

So I've experimented over the years, tossing raw slices into salads, roasting on baking sheets and pickling jars of whole pods to garnish drinks. All those methods have their merit, but I've found that open flame works perhaps best of all. The outer skin crisps up to nearly crackling on the grill, while the insides of the pods stay miraculously slime free and still maintain moisture throughout.

It's a textural two-fer that's packed with health benefits, including high fiber, Vitamins A and C and plenty of minerals like iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium. If I'm firing up the grill to sear a skirt steak or a halibut filet, it's become second nature to toss on a skewer or two of fresh, young, in-season okra to serve as a side.

'Snot any trouble at all.

Grilled Okra

Wash fresh, young pods and trim the stems, while leaving the tops intact. Thread the pods onto skewers side by side, but not touching. If you're using bamboo skewers, soak them for at least 30 minutes beforehand so they won't burn.

Brush or spray the pods lightly with oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Your favorite barbecue rub will add an extra layer of flavor, as will powdered, okra-friendly spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika or cayenne pepper.

Heat the grill to medium, oil the grate and cook the skewers for 2-3 minutes, then flip over for an addition 2-3 minutes. The pods should be slightly crisp and pick up grill marks, but shouldn't be charred.

Remove from heat, remove the skewers, sprinkle lightly with lemon juice if desired and serve.

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Filed under: Dishes • Grilling • Grilling • How To • Make • Okra • Recipes • Scorpacciata • Techniques & Tips • Vegetables

soundoff (118 Responses)
  1. Thinking things through

    I had to pick just ONE way in the poll? I like it any way you serve it – except at that restaurant chain that chops it into 1/4 inch pieces and then deep batter fries the pieces so you can't tell there isn't anything other than grease and tasteless starch in there. Country something...(See? It was so traumatic I forgot the name!)

    June 30, 2014 at 7:50 am |
  2. Chef Tatum

    Saute w/ cream fresh corn. Remove ends and stem, cut okra on a bias to create a wide profile and even sized pieces. Saute fresh corn in a small amount of butter and cream, salt and pepper to taste, toss in your okra right when the corn is finished and allow to stand for 3-5 minutes after mixed into the hot corn mix. Okra will tenderize but remain crisp and won't start to become "snotty". This is a vibrantly bright dish with great presentation appeal and a nice summer crisp flavor that you will want to make over and over.....

    June 25, 2013 at 7:18 am |
  3. Sunshine Daydream

    Wow! Grilled okra is an awesome addition to grilled veggies! Thank you for grilling something other than meat and sharing it with the world. I was recently inspired by this delicious picture: http://imunchie.com/oliviab/munchies/grilled-savory-vegetables

    November 13, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  4. Rick

    Re : the dehydrated thread , Earth Fare carries their line of okra and other veggies and theyre kinda freeze dried but totally dry and crunchy.. I grew Clemson spineless in containers this year , tall plants will suppress any other "hitchhikers" Good yeild and one of the prettiest blooms in my garden

    August 15, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  5. Deb

    That story is right up there. The first meal my then-boyfriend (now hubby of 33+ years) made for me was liver and onions! That could've been tempting fate too, except I love liver and onions. So all's well that ends well!

    Just a note....how about trying some GOOD salt in this dish? I recently got some Himalayan pink salt and organic peppercorns from Sustainable Sourcing https://secure.sustainablesourcing.com and I'll have to try them out in this recipe. Thanks for sharing!

    August 15, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  6. Lisa Moore

    The Indian way: bindi masala- can find on almost any menu in an Indian restaurant and is easy to make at home.

    August 10, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  7. David

    I like it best baked!

    Trim the stems off, toss in a little olive oil, salt & pepper or other seasoning mixture, and bake in an uncovered dish at 350" for 15 or 20 minutes.

    No Slime!

    August 10, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  8. stacie

    We saute it in butter with lemon juice, garlic and hot sauce and serve it over rice. Sometimes I add fire roasted tomatoes or sliced up sausage-yum!

    August 10, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  9. Jimbo

    My wife doesn't like the slime factor either but I love it most any way it's cooked. My wife likes to cook it the way her grandmother always cooked it which is to chop it up and heat it in the fryin' pan with a little oil until the moisure cooks out. When that happens she adds one egg and mixes it with the okra as the egg cooks (scrambles). She adds salt and pepper for seasoning. Everyone in our family enjoys it this way.

    August 10, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  10. Annib

    Okra grilled is absolutely fabulous and for those who haven't tried, please do. You will be very surprised. Yummi!!!

    August 10, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  11. OWN

    Pour some EVO all over me and then.......Eat Me.

    August 10, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  12. C

    I use Alton Brown's method. Cut okra in corn meal with salt and pepper (sometimes garlic powder) and placed into a dry pan. Working on top of the stove, let it continue on medium heat until golden and a little crunchy. The okra puts out just enough moisture to make the corn meal stick.

    You get tired of the same old green beans, corn, and broccoli. Okra is a nice change once in a while.

    August 10, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  13. gnappi

    The best dish with okra is from my home state, Minas Gerais, Brazil: chicken with okra: http://www.cozinhabrasileira.com/carnes/frango_com_quiabo_2.html. Please, use a translator.

    August 10, 2011 at 6:26 am |
    • Eric

      I'm from Alabama, where we deep fry quiabo, but my husband is from Goiás, and we live in Paraná, and he cooks it diced with different kinds of abóbora. He also makes it similar to your recipe with galinha caipira (but only when he doesn't have any pequi).

      July 7, 2014 at 12:21 pm |
  14. Mark -Texas/Mississippi

    stir-fried with Garlic, cilantro, onions and mushrooms in olive oil

    August 10, 2011 at 5:08 am |
  15. crazycatman

    The best way to eat it is to feed it to the garbage disposal, but it jams up the disposal too.

    August 10, 2011 at 3:28 am |
  16. Loren

    Other for sure – I LOVE okra cooked Indian style as Bhindi Masala. Saute some onion in ghee till it's well caramelized, remove from pan, then add a few tablespoons more ghee (clarified butter). Throw in a tsp or so of cumin seed (plus some mustard seed if you like, which I do occasionally). When the seed crackles, add 1/2 tsp ground turmeric, 1 1/2 tsp garam masala, 1/4 tsp or to taste of ground or crushed red pepper (you can use paprika if you want it totally mild), about 1 1/2 cups (8 oz.) young, tender okra cut into 1/2 inch slices, and about half of another onion chopped in large pieces. It's very important to use only the smallest young okra; select them carefully, only those less than the length of your middle finger and no thicker than your thumb. Older , bigger pieces are tough and woody, and a lot slimier. Stir and fry for about 5 minutes then add about 2/3 cup coarsely chopped tomato (about one medium or 2-3 roma). Fry for another couple of minutes then return the caramelized onion to the pan with about 2 tbsp water. Continue to cook until the onion and okra are tender and the tomato is pulpy. The okra will pass thru a stage where it is a little slimy but keep on – once the okra is tender and the caramelized onion has formed a sauce with the tomato, the slime will be gone. Now that the okra is cooked, salt to taste – if you add salt when you put the okra in, it will draw out the slime, so wait til it is cooked thru and off the heat. You can add another 1/2 tsp garam masala at the end, too, and do sprinkle on some fresh chopped cilantro. This is fabulous. Tender, satisfying, and a delicious accompaniment to any Indian style meal or to roast pork.

    There are dozens of slightly varying recipes for Bhindi Masala on the net. Some of them call for simply frying the okra in ghee first before constructing the dish, as a way of preventing any slimness. That can make the dish incredibly rich. (No harm in that IMHO.) I like to try various different ones from time to time. I add a couple of tbsp Besan (gram flour) to this dish occasionally too (add a little more ghee if you try that). This dish is easy to make and cooks up quickly. I could eat it as the main course of a meal with some basmati rice or a couple of good chapatti or parathas. I'm drooling just thinking about it! One reason I love this so much is my mother use to stew okra and tomatoes with some onion and flavor it with a little cinnamon – just a hint. Served as a side dish with other good classic southern cooking it is sooo good, my father and I used to fight over the last portion, not knowing at the time my mom had already put up a portion in the fridge for herself to snack on after everyone else had gone to bed. The garam masala in this dish reminds me of the cinnamon my mom used. Gosh we loved that stuff!!

    I hope others will be encouraged to look up Bhindi masala and try a recipe they find interesting. It's fast, easy to prepare, and delicious, and best of all very nutritious. It's a great introduction to Indian cooking too. Just watch how much butter/ghee you put in. It makes the dish rich and gives it a luscious mouth feel but of course adds on the calories quickly.

    August 10, 2011 at 2:52 am |
  17. Sarah

    The first time I had fried okra, I was sick to my stomach. Not because it was terrible, but because I grew up on okra a completely different way than the Southern US. Mom’s okra. My mother is a phenomenal cook (chef really). Hailing from Salle, Morocco and born in the 1960s, it was ingrained in their culture to teach women how to cook and reveal centuries of trade secrets. My mother learned these sacred recipes and at the same time was treated to the latest fashions during her youth and teens, as well as the best education and freedom of choice in her life.
    To this day, her okra is cooked in an authentic clay cuisine pot with a piece of beef from her favorite butcher (mom and my aunt have been driving an hour to this butcher since I was 8 years old) potatoes, okra, saffron, cumin, parsley, special ingredients and simmered for hours. Exquisite. The okra is soft, a bit gooey, and full flavor from the broth. When eaten with pita bread the okra spreads apart onto the meat and potatoes giving it a texture and taste that is only experienced in this dish. Mom’s Moroccan okra dish is a force to be recon with. I invite any food critic to come over for dinner anytime!! There is more where that came from……you have no idea…

    August 10, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  18. Creed

    Try frying it with little cubes of potatoes, the red ones are best. I just dust with Morrison's cornbread mix instead of battering. Also add strips of onion sometimes. One of my favorites.

    August 9, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  19. Tim Knecht

    First ran into okra in Boot Camp. it was the only thing I would not eat, no matter how hungry I was. tried fried okra at a Cajun chicken franchise near Cleveland, OH, and was surprised, but still didn't buy. That early mindset is just too powerful. I guess it's like NASCAR: just too repulsive.

    August 9, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  20. Jenn

    I like it lightly steamed and then sauted in garlic and olive oil with grape tomatoes. Gorgeous and very yummy. :o)

    August 9, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Jenn

      and not slimey. :o)

      August 9, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  21. A.B.

    Boiled with some butter and salt is my favorite. Just don't cook it until the pods open. My mom has recently started steaming it, which gives you the boiled texture without the slime.

    August 9, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
  22. Displeased

    Slice it, stir fry it in olive oil with other veggies from the garden, then pour whipped egg over it to make a veggie omelet. It was delicious!

    August 9, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  23. Betty

    Cut in large slices and stir fried with other vegetables

    August 9, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  24. Willow

    I'm a Midwesterner but I'm weird, I like spicy food. I've never had okra outside a gumbo, and it's great in gumbo.

    August 9, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  25. keith

    In deep South Texas that's about all you can grow in the middle of summer!!!! The stuff loves heat !! I like it fried and pickled and haven't grown it in years!!!

    August 9, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • Neil

      Yep, at this point, it's the only greenery we've got left in the garden here in Austin. Everything else, tomatoes included, have given up the ghost, but please believe the okra is out here going to town like it's nothing.

      August 10, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  26. Mujtaba al-Mahmood

    Nothing like Indian curry with fish or meat!

    August 9, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  27. Truthwillsetyoufree

    Most do not eat it raw but it's good! try it!...

    August 9, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  28. Southern Girl

    I've spent many summers cutting okra to be "canned" for the winter with my grandmother. It is one of my favorite memories of her. Stewed okra, tomatoes, shrimp and chicken is my all time favorite meal but only when done right....especially if it is done by MA!

    August 9, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  29. mightaswellbe

    Fried, Gumbo'd or pickled is just fine. i may have to try the grill thing.

    August 9, 2011 at 5:47 pm |

    This Southern girl loves her okra ("okrie") fried, but I came across whole okra pods that were dehydrated. They were very crispy/crunchy without the fat of being layered in cornmeal and fried with oil. Just an option you might want to check into. I found the dehydrated okra in a Mennonite owned store in a small Arkansas town, but an investment in a dehydrator might be in order!

    August 9, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Becky

      Were they cooked before dehydrating, cooked after dehydrating, or eaten raw? I am intrigued.

      August 9, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  31. Janet

    My mom used to make okra, corn & tomatoes in the summer. She used corn off the cob and the crunch of the fresh corn, with taste of the slightly mushy okra and the tomatoes was so good. Only thing better was the fried corn (what some would call creamed corn) she made. This reminds me that i should see if she remembers her recipes !

    August 9, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  32. Lola from Tennessee

    My favorite way to eat okra is to cut the tops off few fresh pods and boil them in a pot with fresh picked Purple Hull Peas. Nothing finer. It's a southern tradition. Fresh okra also makes, fresh from the garden, vegetable soup have that extra good taste.

    August 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • carol from maine

      I am growing purple hulled peas and okra (for the first time–northern variety) in my Maine garden. The okra is doing well–can't wait! I love it stewed and fried. :)

      August 10, 2011 at 6:53 am |
  33. KEN J


    August 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Little Johnny

      I like it when you turn off your fuquing caps lock, tard.

      August 9, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  34. Smoooochie

    Bhindi Masala! Onions, spices and okra...yummm...

    August 9, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  35. gamecock12

    I saute it with olive oil and sea salt and fresh chopped garlis YUMMY

    August 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Little Johnny

      Don Garlis?

      August 9, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
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