How to Cook Okra Like a True Southerner

Whether for its subtle, delectable flavor or its many health benefits, knowing how to cook okra just right is a skill you need for the summer.

It’s officially summer—and that means it’s okra season! This highly-underrated Southern side dish deserves more love, so we’re breaking down how to cook okra and reap all the rewards it has to offer.

What is Okra, Anyway?

For the unfamiliar, okra looks like a thick, long green pod. (It’s been nicknamed “ladies’ fingers” in some parts of the country.) The veggie is chock-full of vitamins and minerals like vitamin B, vitamin C, calcium and potassium, making things like this delicious roasted fresh okra recipe a fantastic addition to any meal.

Typically, May through September is the best time to pick up fresh okra, so keep your eyes peeled next time you’re at your local farmers market or grocery store. (You might have good luck at a farmer’s roadside stand, too.) You’ll want to look for smallish, firm okra pods that are free from blemishes or discoloration. To keep your okra at its freshest, be sure to put it in the fridge once you get home. Need an off-season okra fix? You can also buy this delicious member of the mallow family pre-chopped and frozen.

How Does Okra Taste?

If you haven’t had okra before, many people describe it as having a “grassy” flavor, or compare it to green beans.

Okra is more well known for its texture, which can simply be described as slimy. When you cut it open, you’ll find a viscous, gel-like substance that comes out, thanks to all the mucilage in the plant. But the slime doesn’t have to be a bad thing—it’s best to embrace it and harness its powers for good. Specifically, okra’s sliminess can really come in handy for thickening up a gumbo. (Don’t miss this seafood gumbo recipe—wow.)

But you can avoid the sliminess if you want, depending on how you prepare it. Many chefs recommend not cutting it too thinly, so you won’t have to deal with it as much. Plus, cooking okra at high temperatures effectively gets rid of the slime, which is why grilling and frying are popular options when considering how to cook okra.

Okra is most commonly found in gumbo recipes and fried up on its own and paired with another classic Southern dish, but can be included in stews, curries, vegetable side dishes and so much more.

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How to Cook Okra

There are plenty of ways to cook okra. You can serve it pickled, boiled, steamed, fried or even chopped up and served raw as a healthy, low-cal snack.

Editor’s tip: For minimal slime, make fewer cuts as you’re prepping your dish.

How to Cook Okra: Roasting

Taste of Home

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh okra, trimmed and cut lengthwise in half
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Toss okra with oil, salt and pepper. Arrange in a 15x10x1-in. baking pan, cut side up.
  3. Roast 12-15 minutes or until tender and bottoms are lightly browned.

Editor’s tip: Want a pop of flavor? Toss with lemon juice, olive oil, smoked paprika and garlic powder before roasting.

How to Cook Okra: Frying

southern fried okraTaste of Home

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups sliced fresh or frozen okra, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic herb seasoning blend
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • Oil for deep-fat frying
  • Additional salt and pepper, optional

Directions

  1. Pat okra dry with paper towels. Place buttermilk in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, seasoning blend and pepper. Dip okra in buttermilk, then roll in cornmeal mixture.
  2. In an electric skillet or deep-fat fryer, heat 1 in. of oil to 375°. Fry okra, a few pieces at a time, for 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

Editor’s note: No need to worry about slime here! When okra is deep-fried, the high heat zaps the mucilage.

How to Cook Okra: Grilling

Close up Okra Vegetables and meats are grilled and pour with Hua Jiao Sichuan pepper in banana leaf bowlLovely monkey/Shutterstock

Ingredients

  • 1 pound medium okra pods
  • Metal or soaked wooden skewers
  • Half a lemon
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Your favorite dipping sauce (we recommend remoulade or a zippy curry dip)

Directions

  1. Depending on the size of your okra, you can likely skewer the okra whole. For very large pods, thread the skewer lengthwise through the entire okra. If you want to fit more than one large okra on each skewer, you’ll need to slice the pods in half. With small- or medium-sized pods, things are easier; you can thread the skewer through the middle of the okra, fitting about eight pods per skewer.
  2. Prepare a gas or charcoal grill on the hottest heat setting, turning all the burners on high for a gas grill or lighting a full chimney of charcoal. Close the lid and allow the heat to build for 15 minutes.
  3. Place the okra skewers on the hottest part of the grill. Cook until they are lightly charred, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the okra from the grill and squeeze the lemon half over the skewers. Sprinkle the okra with kosher salt and serve hot with the dipping sauce of your choice.

Editor’s tip: If you’re weirded out by the slime, avoid chopping the okra and letting the liquid out. Don’t even trim off the stems. Your fears will soon be neutralized by the high heat of the grill, so keep the okra whole until you get there.

More Ways to Cook Okra

Okra’s mild flavor makes it a good canvas for bolder spices and flavorings, so feel free to sneak several okra pods into a curry. Whether you’re using okra to thicken up stews or gumbo, for home canning or roasted as an easy appetizer, you won’t regret incorporating these lovely little pods into your regular cooking routine.

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Camille Berry
Part of the third generation in a family of restaurateurs, Camille was born with a passion for cooking and food. She embarked on a career in hospitality where she excelled as a sommelier and wine director. This hospitality experience has given her a wealth of first-hand knowledge about how to pair all manner of drinks with food—plus some serious kitchen skills. These days, she's hung up her wine key in favor of a pen and covers all aspects of food and drink.