Okra is one of my favorite vegetables. Growing up in the UK, it was a regular on my family’s dinner menu rotation. We’d eat it crisped, stuffed with spices and fried, or cooked in a tangy tomato curry. It was always finger-licking good. When we’d travel back to India, the extended family would be alerted of my love of this magical vegetable and an okra dish would appear at every dinner party we attended. Delicious!
When I moved to the US however, I was shocked to learn that okra is not just unpopular, it’s actually one of the most reviled vegetables out there. As it turns out, cooking okra the way Americans often do, in a Gumbo, releases a gooey substance that makes for an unpleasant slimy texture. So much so, that okra is often referred to as “the slime vegetable”.
As you can imagine, this nearly broke my okra loving heart. This slimy vegetable sounded nothing like the tangy, spicy, crispy vegetable of my youth.
If you’re stewing, boiling or steaming your okra and then complaining when it turns out gooey, here’s an idea: try cooking it differently! (I can’t help but draw a parallel here with the poor Brussels sprout, which is often boiled or steamed and then unfairly declared to be smelly and unpalatable.) There are so many wonderful okra recipes out there, deep fried okra, okra muffins and even an okra tartlette, that there’s really no reason to stop at something you dislike.
I’m going to share with you a wonderfully simple, Indian recipe for okra that results in spicy, perfectly crisped okra. Before we do that though, let’s take a quick look at why okra is so awesome:
1) Okra is loaded with vitamins and minerals.
One cup of okra contains 60% of your RDA of vitamin K, which is essential for proper blood coagulation and helps with bone strength and cardiovascular health. It’s also rich in folate (crucial in preventing birth defects), Potassium (used to build muscle and break carbs down) and Magnesium (essential for protein synthesis and muscle function). Okra can even hold its own against the mighty Brussels sprout.
2) Okra is low in calories
One cup of okra contains only 30 calories. As a fellow blogger puts it, why snack on not-nutritionally dense celery and iceberg lettuce for a low-calorie veggie when you can munch on a nutritionally-dense, low-calorie veggie like okra? Nuff said.
3) Rich in fat-soluble fibre
Okra is rich in fiber, which is essential for digestive health and keeps you feeling full longer. Perhaps most importantly, soluble fiber from fruits and vegetables helps lower blood cholesterol and reduce risk of heart disease.
Are you sold? Let’s dive in :)
Crisped Indian-style Okra with Onions
The dish we’re going to make is known in India as “bhindi bhunjia” (literally, crisped okra) and is my go-to recipe for okra, because it’s quick, easy and has a wonderful tangy kick and a crunch to it. It’s also entirely devoid of slime. Serving the finished okra with some lemon juice and a side of lime pickle really takes this dish up a notch, so if you don’t already own any, I’d recommend buying a jar of Indian pickle and sticking it in the fridge (it lasts forever).
If this is your first time cooking with turmeric, one thing to keep in mind is that the darn thing manages to stain just about anything. Be prepared: no white shirts, no white countertops, no white fridges, no white iPhones. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling and, if a spot of turmeric (or okra cooked in turmeric) does get onto your pristine countertop, squirt some dishwashing liquid onto it and let it soak a few minutes before scrubbing.
- Fresh okra: 20 pods / about 2 cups when chopped
- Half a white onion: coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp garlic paste
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds or cumin powder
- 1/4 tsp red chili powder
- 2 tbsp mustard oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp salt to taste
- Indian lime pickle
Wash the uncut okra and lay flat on a paper towel. Pat the okra dry. Note** do not slice the okra while it’s wet. More importantly, do not wash the okra once it’s been cut — this is crucial if you are to get crisp texture rather than a soggy one.
Slice the tops off the okra and cut the rest of it width-wise into thin, even, slices. The more finely you slice it, the more crispy it’ll be. I cut mine about 0.5cm thick.
Coarsely chop half a white onion. Add the mustard oil to a frying pan and heat over medium. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic paste, the turmeric, cumin seeds and chili powder and cook for around 1 minute, using your wooden spoon to ensure the spices are evenly mixed with the oil. Add the chopped onion, coat and cook for a minute. Finally throw in the okra, turn up the heat and mix well. Sauté for a few minutes, stirring constantly.
If you don’t want your okra super crispy, turn the heat down, cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes with the lid on. Otherwise, leave the frying pan uncovered and sauté the okra and onion as you would any other vegetable — stirring and shaking on medium-high heat. You should see the okra and onions starting to brown. Add 1/2 a teaspoon of salt and cook until you have just a touch of charring and a good coat of golden brown spices.
Finally, remove the okra from the heat and squeeze a bit of fresh lemon over it before serving. Eat with Indian lime pickle (the tangy citrus really complements the flavor of the okra) and some roti. Enjoy!