Cooked okra has a bad reputation for feeling slimy. That would be because, in fact, it can feel slimy. However, I beg you to overlook its lesser quality for one moment, and consider that okra is a veritable treasure-trove of plant-based protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B6, C and K, calcium and potassium. And if the thought of eating your vitamins doesn’t make you jump and clap, the fact that it can be prepared in minutes, and complement a myriad of meals, should merit a tiny whoop.
My Dear Husband Bob’s high cholesterol takes fried okra off the proverbial and our literal table. I found plenty of recipes for baked okra, but they all resulted in rather mushy vegetables. (OK, technically okra is a fruit, but since it doesn’t work in a pie or a smoothie, I’m declaring it an honorary veg.) After a little research, I learned that the key to minimizing the mucilage in your cooked okra is to use small, 4-inch or less, fresh pods. And I mean fresh; once it’s picked, okra has a refrigerator shelf life of only two or three days. Choose okra that is cheerfully green, with no brown or mushy spots. Rinse the okra and, listen up because this is important, thoroughly dry the pods with paper towels or a clean dishcloth. You’ll reduce the goop, and have exchanges like this:
Dear Hubby Bob: What are you doing?
Me: Patting down my veggies.
Dear Hubby Bob: Hey, did you know okra is really a fruit?
24 years together, people. These are the conversations.
On a related note, don’t try to bake previously frozen okra. It’s nearly impossible to dry, and you’ll end up with a soggy mess that confirms everyone’s worst biases against okra. Instead, use frozen okra in recipes like jambalaya, where the goo acts as a natural stew thickener.
For my first baked okra attempt, I dipped the pieces in cornmeal, because old habits die hard. But the coating needed extra oil to cook up crisp, and we were left with a sad version of fried. Instead, skip the carbs and the drudgery of dredging. If you spray the baking sheet with cooking spray first, you can toss the okra in a mere teaspoon of oil. But step away from the cooking spray if you have a Teflon baking sheet, or you’ll risk making the nonstick coating weirdly sticky.
Once you’ve kissed the okra with oil, toss it with your go-to seasoning. My people are in love with fleur de sel, because we are fancy like that. Pick a salt-free herb blend if you are watching your sodium intake. Pinches of turmeric, thyme, coriander, lemongrass and garam masala are also great additions, although perhaps not all at once. Then place your okra in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast in a high-heat oven until the seeds and edges are crisp-tender. Finish with a squeeze of bright lemon juice, which makes a sharp counterpoint to any remaining silkiness. Then do your best not to eat the okra straight from the pan.
You can serve okra as a main course if you fold it into a dish of red beans and rice, or a curry made from roasted sweet potatoes, dried apricots and cinnamon. Tired of the same old steamed broccoli side dish? Baked okra plays well with almost any meal in your weeknight rotation: spaghetti, rotisserie chicken, fish tacos. You just need to toss your preconceived notions aside. And throw away your big okra pods too. No one likes slimy fruit.