Okra can be under-appreciated as a vegetable. It produces a slimy gel when cooked for long periods of time. The slime, or mucilage, can turn people off, but also helps thicken stews and soups made with the vegetable. One way to prepare okra that diminishes the slime is to fry it, but frying okra isn't best for everyday cooking, since it takes a lot of effort and isn't the healthiest option. If you want to introduce your family to okra, bake it instead.
1. Okra Basics
Okra pods have pointy tips and ridges. They can be up to 6 inches in length but have the best taste and texture when they are small. The University of Illinois Extension recommends using pods that are no longer than 3 inches. Okra is usually green, but can come in shades of purple, too. The vegetable is high in fiber and a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A and B vitamins. Okra keeps in the refrigerator for a few days and can be frozen for use later.
2. Preparing Okra
You can keep the okra whole or cut it into small rounds before you cook it. Always cut off the stem end before baking or otherwise cooking the vegetable. Small rounds of okra cook more quickly than whole pods. Soaking the okra in a salty vinegar bath for at least 30 minutes before cooking makes it less slimy, according to Martha Rose Shulman of the "New York Times." You don't have to soak the okra if baking it, though, as the dry heat of the oven helps reduce the slime.
3. Roasting Okra
One way to cook okra using the dry heat of the oven is to roast it. Toss the whole pods or 1/2-inch rounds of the vegetable with some olive oil to coat, then spread on a baking sheet. Use a higher temperature, at least 450 degrees F, if you want very browned okra or a lower temperature, around 400 degrees, for less browning. You can add seasonings to the okra before roasting, such as pepper and salt or dried herbs. Roasting okra can take between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on the size of the pods and the oven temperature.
4. Breaded Okra
Breading okra before baking it creates an "oven fried" affect. The taste and texture of the finished vegetable is like that of fried okra, but without the high fat content. Oven-fried okra is typically dipped in buttermilk or a mixture of egg and buttermilk, then in cornmeal. The buttermilk and egg help the cornmeal cling to the okra pods, giving it a crunchy coating. Once coated in the cornmeal, spread the okra in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a hot oven, at least 400 degrees, until the okra is browned and crispy, usually around 30 minutes.
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