I spoke a lot about okra last weekend at my cooking demonstrations at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, where I highlighted a dish called, "Smoky Okra with Rustic Tomato Coulis". Okra is a fascinating vegetable. I’m most fascinated by its absolutely stunning flower, super slimy interior and the idea that some people dry extra-large pods and transform them into Christmas ornaments painted like Santa.
There are numerous varieties of okra. The variety pictured above is a type of heirloom okra that I purchased at the Grant Park Farmers Market. No matter the variety, all types of okra have one very distictive characteristic in common... slime. It is useful for thickening soups and stews, like gumbo, but if the slime factor is too overpowering the vegetable can be very off-putting. I turn to high heat and dry heat to ensuring that the slime doesn’t get out of hand. By combining these two cooking practices, the okra will cook quickly, a flavorful seared edge with develop and extra moisture/slime will be avoided. High and dry heat can be achieved through cooking techniques like grilling, roasting, broiling, or using a cast iron skillet over a high heat for a quick sauté.
The size and age of the okra pod can also play into its texture and flavor. Choose small or medium sized pods. These will be more tender and contain more moisture. The larger the pods get, the more they tend to dry out and become woody or tough. If you have an okra plant with large or extra-large pods, it might be time to get out your paint brush and get crafty because these huge okra pods are not good for eating. They are often dried and transformed into decorative pieces for floral arrangements, wreaths or Christmas trees.