The South has a love affair with okra that the rest of the country doesn’t entirely share, or even understand. In the Southern states the green pod is fried, pickled, grilled and added to stews. It’s believed that okra was brought to the states from Africa, so its stronghold in Southern cuisine makes sense.
In other parts of the country, you might find this vegetable served on Southern-inspired menus, but it’s not part of the food culture. Why? Because not everyone knows how to cook okra. And when okra isn’t cooked right, it can be slimy and wholly unappetizing.
What’s the deal with okra slime?
Okra is related to the mallow plant, which is where the original version of marshmallows came from. Both plants contain mucilage (a thick, syrupy substance) that when used smartly can be used to make chewy confections or thicken stews, such as gumbo. But if mucilage isn’t properly addressed, it just makes okra feel slimy.
Because mucilage is made of sugar residues called exopolysaccharides and proteins called glycoproteins, its viscosity increases when heat is applied. That increased viscosity is what makes gumbo so great, and it’s also what makes sautéed okra not so great.
So, what’s the best way to cook okra?
As we’ve mentioned above, the best way to cook okra is in stews where the pod can use its mucilage as a thickening agent. But okra is also really great when cooked quickly at high heat: think deep-fried or grilled. When cooked quickly, the mucilage is kept at bay and what you get is a mild-flavored vegetable ― somewhat reminiscent of eggplant ― with a silky texture.
Other cooking tips for reducing the slime involve prepping the okra in specific ways. Some say soaking the okra in vinegar for 30 minutes to one hour before cooking can reduce the sliminess. Just make sure to pat it completely dry before cooking. Others recommend keeping the okra in big pieces because the more you cut them, the more mucilage will be released.
Now that you know, go ahead and try it in these recipes below. We’re confident you’ll quickly become an okra fan.