Go Ahead, Give Okra a Chance

Many people think they don't like okra because of its slimy texture, but cook this little treat differently, and you'll be surprised at the result.

Okra is in season now, and if you’re familiar only with the southern-style way of preparing okra, it’s time to try the Middle Eastern version. If you weren't a fan of okra until now, this may change your mind.

Most okra recipes I grew up with involved cooking it in light tomato sauce made from ripe tomatoes that also reach their peak in the summer. You start by sautéing chopped onions in olive oil, then add the okra to sear it in the oil so it doesn’t turn slimy. After a few minutes you add chopped ripe tomatoes and their juices, a little water, a pinch of cinnamon or dry mint and salt. Some add a little lemon juice. Cover and cook until the okra is soft. For a meat version start with searing cubes of beef chuck in a little oil. Stir in chopped onion, cover with water and cook until tender. For the last 30 minutes add chopped tomatoes and okra that you seared separately in a little oil.

Cooking vegetables in tomato sauce this way is common in Sephardi communities, mainly from the Middle East and the Ottoman Empire. Green beans, for example, are frequently cooked the same way.

Paradoxically, my favorite okra recipe involves so much hassle that I hadn’t had it in about 16 years, since my grandmother died. She used to prepare my favorite type of kibbe (farina patties stuffed with beef) in a simple okra and tomato stew. And as much as I miss that dish, I can’t bring myself to stand for a good hour and a half above the hot pans as the recipe requires. Not in August, anyway. You need to be a Jewish grandmother to do that.

Instead, I chose the simplest okra recipe possible, one that requires you simply to toss all the ingredients in olive oil and roast them in the oven until they’re ready. Roasting in the oven is one of the methods used to “sear” the okra and prevent it from becoming slimy. The others are drying the okra in the sun or frying it shortly in a little oil. In most Middle Eastern recipes the okra is cooked whole and its gooey consistence stays under control.

So even if you’re not an okra fan, give it a chance.