Okra is a vegetable I didn’t have a lot of exposure to before moving down to Nashville five years ago. The extent of my exposure was watching Tom Collichio exclaim his distaste for its slimy texture season after season of Top Chef, which I watched religiously back in college.
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P.S. Anyone else remember the season where Carla Hall competed and took a huge risk by cooking okra even though she knew Tom hated it so much? I just went down a huge internet black hole trying to find that episode but with no luck!
Anyway, down in Nashville in the late summer okra is plentiful. It’s not quite as ubiquitous as even further down south in a city like New Orleans, but it’s still here and proudly Southern nonetheless.
What is Okra?
Okra is a type of vegetable that loves to grow in super hot a humid climates like Western Africa, Southeast Asia, and the southern United States. The okra season typically starts in late summer and lasts until early fall for those of us in the US. I start seeing okra in my farmers’ markets in Middle Tennesse in July.
Okra is usually green, but there are some red varieties available as well. I can’t resist a good heirloom vegetable, so when I saw these red okra pods at my farmers’ market, I had to grab them. Sadly, the red pigmentation goes away when okra is heated, so admire these beauties before you cook them!
You may have heard that okra is slimy and have been turned off because of that. Okra is what they call “mucilanginous” (why do I tell you these things when I’m trying to convince you to eat this?), but that’s not always a bad thing. It’s this property that actually makes okra so great in gumbo because it acts as a thickening agent.
Okay, but how do I make okra not slimy?
Great question. There are a couple of things you can do to reduce the slimy texture in cooked okra. The first is to cook the okra really quickly. Less cooking time = less time to release the viscous liquid. The second is to cook the okra over very high heat. An obvious cooking method if you combine these two is deep frying – it’s quick and hot, but not necessarily the best for appreciating okra as an ingredient you want to showcase.
I’ve found high heat baked okra to be my favorite preparation. Add some cajun spices and smoky bacon to that baked okra? Gimme a whole bowl full, please.
I bake my okra at 450 right alongside the bacon and some peppers until everything is soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. It’s so incredibly easy. And best of all, you get minimal slime with this cajun baked okra. The outsides get a little charred, and all the seeds provide a nice texture.
One very important point to remember: don’t overcrowd your baking sheet. If you overcrowd the baking sheet, your vegetables and bacon will steam instead of roast and that WILL lead you to the slime. No thank you. It’s also important to use dark baking sheets for maximum heat conduction. This is an instance where you really want your vegetables to brown.
Serve the baked okra really nice and hot. This dish is best prepared when the brutal heat of summer has died down and you don’t fear cranking up your oven for 20 minutes time.
Smoky Cajun Baked Okra
Baking okra quickly at a high temperature is the key to tender pods with minimal sliminess – smoky bacon and cajun seasoning make the whole thing insanely addictive!
- 2 pints okra each pod cut into 3-4 segments (about 4 cups chopped in total)
- 2 small sweet peppers largely diced
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 3 tbsp avocado oil
- 2 slices bacon cubed
- 2 small lemons quartered
Preheat the oven to 450
Cut the okra, peppers, and bacon and add to 2 large, dark baking sheets
Add the paprika, garlic powder, salt, and red pepper flakes, and stir to thoroughly combine
Bake at 450 for 18-20 minutes, rotating the two pans halfway through
Remove from the oven, squeeze lemon juice over top, stir, and serve immediately!
Use dark baking sheets to bake the okra for maximum heat conduction. If you don’t have dark baking sheets, then crank your oven up to 475 instead of 450.