In the produce world, every seat at the Cool Kids Table belongs to summer produce. I’ve written at length about how much I love tomato season, but honestly? I love almost all summer veggies, and could even be convinced to give pattypan squash another chance if I really had to. I think this is the best time of year to go to the farmer’s market — I block out my Google Calendar every Saturday morning to make sure I make it on time! After all, the good produce sells out early and we only have so many summer Saturdays. Because I’m going every week, I’ve been able to keep a pulse on when a veggie is officially in season in this newly “humid subtropical” climate — and this past week, I finally saw okra at the market!
Okra is an oft-overlooked star in the summer produce pile. I know it’s supposedly a divisive food, but the only valid opinion here is that okra is delicious. If you have a hard time with slimy foods, I’m willing to concede that okra requires a bit more care, but I don’t think you should write it off entirely! There are ways to make okra less slimy. And, if you’re into slimy (I learned recently the technical term here is “mucilaginous”) things like oysters or cacti, okra is the perfect match for you. Also, sometimes the okra slime is exactly what a dish needs, like in the case of gumbo!
What To Look For
If you’re in a veggie rut, try picking up some okra the next time you’re at the market. Okra’s a summer veggie, sometimes called lady’s fingers (gay), and can be green or burgundy. The color doesn’t really matter if you’re cooking the okra, because burgundy okra turns green with exposure to heat, but if you’re eating it raw or just have a penchant for funky colored veggies, burgundy is cool. If you’ve never purchased okra before, look for smaller pods with firm ends. My grandma’s trick is to see if the tips break off easily when bent, but I got in trouble the last time I did that so I have not done it since!
Anyway, now that we’re in okra season, here are some of my favorite ways to eat okra!
Sauteed, Western Indian Style
Okra is one of my comfort foods, especially when it’s made the way my mom makes it. She didn’t make a lot of Indian food when I was growing up, but okra was one constant that I could count on. Other subcontinental versions of this dish sometimes add in onions and/or tomatoes, but I like mine dry! I don’t have an exact recipe (no one in my family uses measurements) but this is a close approximation and will get you there, and as a bonus, takes less than ten minutes to cook!
After you’ve washed and dried your okra, cut it into bite-size pieces. Toast ground cumin and ground coriander (1/2 tsp each) in olive oil, then toss the okra in and coat it. Sprinkle some turmeric on top (1/4-ish tsp) and some chili powder (to taste), then stir to combine and let that cook for five to seven minutes, tops. Turn the heat off, sprinkle some salt on top to taste, and that’s literally it! Whenever I make this for my partner and I, there are no leftovers!
If you’re anti-slime, try pickling your okra whole. The more cuts you make into okra, the more slimy it’ll get – so zero cuts means less slime. Plus, you get a cool Bloody Mary topping out of it! If you have a quick pickle recipe for cucumbers that you like, you can just use that on your okra as you would any other vegetable. If you need some inspiration, check out this recipe, and then make a pickle plate with some farmer’s cheese and some crackers to round it out. And, if you’re feeling fancy, maybe some dried apricots to balance out the salty and sour with a little sweet!
You might have heard the phrase “if it grows together, it goes together”. I don’t know if that holds water in every possible scenario, but it definitely rings true when it comes to okra and tomatoes. You could follow this recipe, which calls for salting and vinegaring the whole okra pods before they’re cooked, or go this route and add in some bacon instead.
I’m not talking about breaded deep-fried okra here, though as someone dating a Southerner, I do have to admit that breaded okra is delicious! I’m talking about thinly sliced fried okra with a little sprinkle of lemon and salt on top — or maybe some chaat masala if you’re like me. I will admit that slicing okra lengthwise is hard, but I promise it’s worth it. After the thin okra strips are fried, you’re left with these potato chip-esque salty crunchy bites. If you’re looking for a recipe, check out this one (though I’ve never had fried okra with sage) or try this one — it turns the fried okra strips into a salad!
If you’re not into any of the above, try stuffing your okra, making it into gumbo (I guess this is technically a stew), or even grilling it! Okra is versatile, and the perfect addition to your summer grocery list IMO.