Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Cooking With Okra: Tips and Techniques


Cooking With Okra: Tips and Techniques

Okra, also called ladies' finger, is a favored vegetable in Indian cuisine. My mother used to cook in three different ways: stir fried, stuffed and as crispy toppings on yogurt. As a curry, it partners well with both rice and roti.

Here in the US, it is not a popular vegetable (except in the South) and is almost never found in the regular grocery stores. Which is a pity because okra is a nutritious vegetable high in dietary fiber and rich in vitamins and beta carotene. Okra is off putting to many because it becomes slimy or gooey during the cooking process. But prepared in the right way, it can be a tasty and nutritious addition to your vegetarian options. Below are some tips and techniques for getting the best out of this vegetable.

A. Choosing the best okra at the market or Growing Your Own

Okra is a summer plant and it tastes best when it is in season. When shopping for okra, look for one that is green, immature and slender. Thick and mature pods are woody and fibrous and unpleasant to eat. The freshness of an okra pod can be determined by bending and snapping its tip. A tender okra will break cleanly whereas a mature one will not (see below).

In the late 90s, before okra was abundantly available in Indian grocery stores, I used to grow okra in my vegetable garden. If you live in a place that has at least eight weeks of warm weather (day time temperatures above 70 deg), you can grow okra in your backyard. Okra is remarkably easy to grow. All it need is lots of sun and water during the growing season. It produces multiple harvests in a single season and as long as the pods are picked frequently, it will reproduce itself abundantly. 

B. Preparing Okra for Cooking Without the Sliminess

Okra gets slimy when it comes into contact with water and becomes moist. There are several ways to prepare slime-free okra. I have developed a method that works well for me: First I wash and drain them in a colander (I do wash them to remove dirt and any residual pesticides). Then I thoroughly wipe them dry with paper towels. Finally, I air dry them for about 30 minutes. Using a dry cutting board and knife I cut them without fear of any gooey liquid oozing out.

3. Cooking Okra

I cook okras in the typical Indian way. I saute using the standard Indian spices and oil. Again, there is no water involved in the cooking. Cooking them in high heat with oil creates a texture that is wonderfully crispy outside while tender inside.

Stir Fry Okra 

Okra with Tomatoes

Yogurt Topped with Crispy Okra

If you have any questions after reading this post, feel free to contact or comment.

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