11 Great Ways to Use Okra

From sumptuous Creole gumbo and tempura-fried pods to crispy salads and puckery pickles, there are infinite ways to fall in love with okra.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Okra Salad
Photo: © John Kernick

Here's what we're not gonna do on my watch: slander okra. I'm sick to the teeth of stories like "How to Make Okra Less Slimy" and "The Least Slimy Ways to Eat Okra" that are predicated on the notion that the texture of okra is something that needs to be overcome rather than celebrated. Okra is a marvelously versatile vegetable that is beloved in cooking cultures from Ethiopia to Bombay to Tokyo to New Orleans and everywhere in between. It deserves a commensurate level of respect. What some may denigrate as "slime" is the mucilage — or soluble fiber — that brings a slippery heft to gumbos and stews, and is used in traditional medicine around the world.

If that's not to your liking, okra can be eaten raw, pickled, fried, succotashed, roasted, grilled, crisped to shards, or cooked an infinite number of ways that celebrate all that's special about this vegetable, and it freezes gorgeously to boot. What does okra taste like? That depends on how you cook it. In its purest form, the word "grassy" is often used to describe the flavor of okra, but I'd go with "green" (mostly because "vegetal" feels kinda pretentious, but you get the gist). But another beautiful thing about okra is that not only is it a textural shapeshifter depending on the dish, it also can be a blank canvas on which to feature your favorite spices, oils, proteins, rubs, vegetables, or just a hearty layer of fried batter.

Okra thrives in the heat of summer when it can be celebrated at its most tender (grow some at home if you have the means, because the flowers are shockingly lovely), but many markets sell it fresh year-round, and frozen pods and rounds are always available for your stew, soup, gumbo, and roasting pleasure.

There are infinite ways to enjoy okra, and these are just a few of Food & Wine's favorites.

01 of 11

Tempura-Fry Okra and Serve with a Dipping Sauce

Okra Tempura With Lime Fonzu Sauce
Photo by Linda Xiao / Food Styling by Kate Buckens / Prop Styling by Maeve Sheridan

Executive editor Karen Shimizu believes that high-heat cooking with a zap of acid is the ideal way to highlight okra's texture potential. Her ponzu-inspired dipping sauce swaps in lime juice for the sometimes hard-to-find yuzu, while fish sauce swims in to take the place of a longer katsuobushi soak. Scoring the pods ensures more surface for the airy tempura batter to cling to for maximum crispness.

02 of 11

Make Okra Gumbo with a Creole Culinary Legend

Okra Gumbo with Blue Crabs and Shrimp
© John Kernick

The late Leah Chase was deemed the "Queen of Creole Cooking" and her seafood-packed gumbo recipe only underscores her right to reign eternal. This okra-thickened gumbo from The Dooky Chase Cookbook is especially memorable when it's made with shrimp and blue crab from the Gulf — worth the splurge to have shipped overnight from a Louisiana fishery — but quite excellent with whatever crustaceans are local to you.

03 of 11

Crisp Up Okra and Make a Salad


When chef Suvir Saran was a kid, he started cutting okra into strips rather than rounds to maximize its crispiness when fried. As an adult, he upped the wow factor with the addition of garam masala and amchur powder, plus crunchy onions and tomatoes — a kiss-bang combo of texture and flavor that made this recipe one of Food & Wine's 40 best of all time.

04 of 11

Swap Chicken for Brisket and Okra in Noodle Soup

Smoked Brisket Noodle Soup
Greg DuPree

Pitmaster Griffin Bufkin offers serious Southern comfort in the form of a hearty, smoky brisket and okra soup, bolstered by legumes and rich egg noodles. Fresh beans, field peas, corn, and okra offer a bright taste of the summer season, but frozen vegetables are perfectly scrumptious in the chillier months.

05 of 11

Roast Okra in a Skillet and Spice It Up

Skillet-Roasted Spiced Okra
© Frances Janisch

Kevin Gillespie is renowned for his celebration of the American South's bounty of produce, and this warmly spiced, skillet-roasted okra is a flavor party in a pod. Fenugreek, hot paprika, turmeric, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon toast fragrantly in oil, and a flick of lemon juice makes the whole thing sing.

06 of 11

Stew Okra and Fish, Lowcountry-Style

Carolina Fish, Shrimp, Okra Stew with Black Rice
Kelly Marshall

If you're lucky enough to score an invitation to one of chef and cookbook author Alexander Smalls' legendary dinner parties in Harlem, thank your lucky stars and come hungry. Smalls loads up his Lowcountry-style stew with catfish or cod, shrimp, a quick shrimp broth, black rice, and plenty of okra to add silken heft to the whole shebang.

07 of 11

Toss Sweet Potatoes and Okra in a Main-Event Salad

Roasted Sweet Potato and Okra Salad
© John Kernick

Okra and yams are boon companions in regional cuisines throughout Africa, and chef Marcus Samuelsson pays homage to the duo with this nutty, hearty, tangy salad of sweet potatoes, red potatoes, okra, wilted spinach, and a palate-popping meld of mustard seeds, red wine vinegar, and briny capers.

08 of 11

Pop a Ham Hock in the Pot with Your Okra Pods

Smoked Ham-Hock and Lentil Soup
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

When the weather starts to cool, 2018 F&W Best New Chef Nina Compton knows it's time for this soothing, hock-stocked soup, rich with okra and laden with lentils. Ginger and lemongrass bring an aromatic note of Compton's childhood in St. Lucia, while local okra beckons her back to her now-chosen home in New Orleans.

09 of 11

Pickle Those Okra Pods

Sweet and Spicy Pickled Okra
© Emily Farris

Cucumbers, green beans, and tomatoes are perfectly lovely pickles, but there's a particular multi-sense satisfaction you get when you snap into a pickled okra pod. We've got excellent recipes for Lemon-Okra Pickles, Hot Pickled Okra, Sweet Pickled Okra, and more, but this sweet-spicy combo is the best of all worlds.

10 of 11

Trust José's Way with Okra

Ham-and-Potato Salad
© Con Poulos

When José Andrés isn't out saving humankind with his World Central Kitchen initiative, he's back in the kitchen winning hearts, minds, and palates with innovative recipes like this deviled-egg-ish, ham-flecked, pickled-okra-garnished potato salad. Yup, cornichons, cayenne, and horseradish might seem a bit over the top but as with all things Andrés, just trust that it's leading somewhere good.

11 of 11

Grill Okra with a Sassy Array of Seasonal Vegetables

Grilled Corn, Tomato and Okra Salad
Victor Protasio

Sorry to taunt you if you're reading this outside of peak okra season, but Vishwesh Bhatt's summer-centric grilled vegetable salad is worth the wait. A melange of okra, corn, cucumbers, tomato, and onions runs smack dab into a dressing of lime juice, basil, cilantro, and jalapeño peppers and wouldn't you just know it? Every last bit of it plays nicely together.

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