Popular in the southern United States, Japan, the eastern Mediterranean and India, Okra is an underrated vegetable elsewhere probably for two reasons: Some people don’t like the slime and others aren’t aware of all the wonderful things to do with it beyond Gumbo.
The goo inside the pretty green pods is useful for thickening gumbo and other stews, but some are put off by it. This is a shame since okra’s in season now and it has a wonderful, crisp tenderness and mild grassy flavor that pairs well with other seasonal goodies like corn, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.
A friend recently clued me into a couple of techniques for lowering the slime factor:
Turns out it’s the interaction with liquid that makes the stuff inside turn slimy, so the trick is to minimize the okra’s contact with water and other liquids. There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to steam or blanch for 3-4 minutes and drain and dry the okra thoroughly before slicing it. My friend recommends actually using a hair dryer. Then you can slice the okra, but don’t add it to the dish until the very end, so as to minimize moisture contact. For example, you could stew some tomatoes, onion and eggplant until done and then add the blanched, dried and sliced okra just before serving.
Another way is to flash fry it, which sort of cauterizes the okra. This is the method used in Indian dishes. Wash the okra, dry thoroughly and then slice and fry in a small amount of very hot oil. Remove it from the oil and set aside while you prepare the rest of the dish. Add the okra back in at the very end.
Southern cooks swear by soaking the okra in vinegar and water or adding vinegar or lemon juice to the dish itself to cut down on the slime. You can also leave the okra whole. It’s great grilled with a little salt and pepper and olive oil. The season's almost over, so enjoy it while it lasts.