Okra lovers are assumed to have developed their passion for the pods via regional osmosis: “We’re from the South; of course we love okra.” Not true. In fact, most Southern treatments of the oft-maligned vegetable could be construed as a deliberate effort to ensure no one will ever like it. Overcooked in tomato-based stews to bring out its slimy texture; pickled in vinegar to give it all the appeal of a rubber eraser; deep-fried to obscure any hints of greenness-is it any wonder okra suffers such ignominy?
I grew up loving okra in spite of the brutalities heaped upon it by cooks back home in Texas. As a chef, I have what I think is the perfect way to cook okra-which is much like any other green vegetable. I give it a quick pan sauté in a hot skillet. Timing is essential, as a couple minutes too long will encourage the unappealing stringy quality. What comes out is a crisp, green, crunchy, yet tender green vegetable that is the essence of summer.
- Okra pods are best when they are young. They should be small, bright green, free of brown spots or scars and have tender-not woody-stems.
- It’s easy to test the texture of a perfect specimen. A pristine okra pod should feel exactly like the top of a puppy’s nose-tender and pliable with a soft velvety fuzz.
- Fresh is best, but you can store okra, unwashed and untrimmed, up to several days in a loosely wrapped plastic bag in the vegetable crisper. Wash okra just before using it.
- When trimming the stems, cut only the very tip, not the entire cap.
—By David Feder, a writer and chef in Buffalo Grove, Ill.