While okra isn’t exactly the new kid on the block, most Australians are only fairly recently learning to grow and cook with it. Okra is versatile in the kitchen and can be cooked as a side dish, a main, or a snack. Here we give you a recipe for each of these options.
Okra has long been a staple in the kitchens and gardens of the southern USA. Thought to have been brought to the region in the early 1700s by slaves from west Africa, by 1780 okra was documented as a ‘key ingredient’ in the south. In Louisiana, slaves taught the créoles how to use okra to thicken soups, and recipes such as créole gumbo came into being.
Okra, like (zucchini), produces its fruits very quickly, so needs regular harvesting. Small, soft pods make for the best eating, so pick them (with a knife or secateurs) before they are 4″ (10cm) long. You can store okra in the fridge (wrapped in paper towel) for up to 6 days.
When it comes to okra, a sticking point for some people is the mucilage content (aka ‘sliminess’). Okra is particularly high in mucilaginous fibre, which can help soothe the digestive system & stimulate the immune system. While this may be good for your insides, it can be rather ‘gooey’ on the way down. If you’re unsure about this texture, know that the more you cut this intricate veggie, the more slime it produces. So the larger pieces you cut, the less mucilage you will experience.
Ideal as a snack or side dish, this is super-quick to whip up with fresh garden okra. There are a variety of fried okra recipes floating around, and this is one you can definitely experiment with because it’s so easy.
Essentially, okra fritters is okra in egg & breadcrumbs. To make this dish, simply slice your okra, coat it in egg then in breadcrumbs, and fry in oil over a moderate heat for 5 minutes until golden. You can deep-fry or pan-fry; if pan-frying, you’ll need to turn the okra over so it cooks evenly on both sides.
This is a dish that can be as simple or as complicated as you like. Depending on your tastebuds, you can add some spices of your choice in with the breadcrumbs. Things like cayenne pepper, dried chilli, smoked paprika or a spice blend will all work. For an authentic southern USA version, use cornmeal instead of breadcrumbs. As the name suggests, cornmeal is like breadcrumbs made from corn. They have a gritty texture which brings extra crunch to fried foods. (Btw, making your own cornmeal is easy- simply dehydrate cooked corn kernels then grind it up in a spice grinder to the texture you want).
Okra & Tomato Stew
This recipe really uses okra and lets it shine. Not only that, but it ticks all the foodie boxes; it’s wholesome, filling, low-calorie, is both vegan and vegetarian, and best of all, is quick & easy to make.
To make this dish, start by heating 3 tbsp of oil in a large frying pan. Add in a chopped onion, 2 tsp of garlic, and about 500 grams of tomatoes. Cook this mixture down for about 10 minutes if using tinned tomatoes, or 25 minutes if using fresh tomatoes.
Meanwhile, zest and juice one lemon, and cut 6-8 okra pods into slices. Once the tomatoes have cooked down and the onion is translucent, add 2 tsp of cumin plus the lemon juice & zest to the pan. Season with salt & pepper. (At this point, if you’ve used fresh tomatoes, you may want to remove the skins). Add the sliced okra and stir through. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the okra has cooked through- about 10 minutes. Right at the end, add a drained tin of chickpeas and heat through.
Okra is versatile as a side vegetable, just like most other greens. You can roast, grill, fry, steam or boil it, and its mild flavour matches all meats and bulkier vegetables.
Roasted okra is super-simple to make, and this method of cooking does lessen the gooey texture. To roast okra, first preheat your oven to 220C (425F). Wash then top & tail your pods. Line a shallow baking tray with baking paper (parchment), then spray with oil. Place your pods on the tray in a single layer, then drizzle with oil then sprinkle salt & pepper on top. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until tender.