Okra has such an undeserved bad rep, just as much for its infamous gooey insides, as its bland, almost negligible flavour. I must confess to being a huge fan of it though, however it is cooked, whether with lots of spices to enhance its naturally mild constitution or with just a few ingredients so its natural woody, grassy flavour can be enjoyed to the fullest.
Where does okra come from?
This is a bit of a contentious issue, with South Asians and East and West Africans laying claim to its origin. Suffice it to say though that it is very popular in the cuisines of these countries as well as in Middle Eastern and South American cooking.
A vegetable by any other name, I grew up calling it lady’s fingers, bhindi or okra, interchangeably, depending on who I was talking to!
So how to cook okra without it getting all gooey?
Well, that rather depends on the dish you’re cooking itself. Certain dishes rely on okra’s sticky insides to thicken stews and soups, such as in the world renowned gumbo.
If you’d like to use it in curries, dals and stews without the stickiness, the best thing to do is to leave the okra whole, that way none of the mucilaginous content has a chance to get released.
This is not a full proof method though, as the okra cooks and softens, it does have a tendency to split.
There are 2 key elements involved if you would like a slime free okra dish:
1. Make sure that the okra is dry, very dry, before you cut it and most certainly, before you cook it. Moisture encourages the spread of the characteristic goo.
2. Cook it on high heat, this will cook off any remaining moisture and sticky liquid.
Look for the bright green, firm ones. These are the younger, fresher okra and will have less tendency to split when cooking whole. Stay well away from the khaki green coloured ones and most certainly, leave those with obvious black, brown or grey streaks.