Okra is not the kind of vegetable you love at first bite. It’s not the taste that makes you think twice before taking another forkful, it’s how it feels when it’s in your mouth. “Okra is slippery and slimy,” writes Elizabeth Schneider in Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables, (Harper & Row, 1986). However, she also writes that okra “is lovely and sweet-tasting.” This leaves anyone not born in the South and brought up on the tapered green pods between a culinary rock and a hard place.
If you read enough about okra, which was introduced to America by North African slaves, you might start to believe that with the right trimming and/or cooking techniques, the gumminess can be brought under control. The truth is there is virtually no way to make it go away. But it’s the stickiness that’s part of its appeal. Okra fans say that’s the way it’s supposed to be, like New Englanders try to convince outsiders that the charm of rhubarb is in its stringiness.
Instead of cooking up a pot of gumbo, the traditional way to use okra, we decided a good way to prepare okra was as a salad. With a few other ingredients—greens, red bell pepper and jicama—okra makes a terrific side dish for practically everything. There is no getting around the way it feels in when you’re chewing, but to anyone with okra-loving genes, it’s a taste worth cultivating.
—By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.