9 Okra Recipes That Celebrate The Southern Staple

okra and fried okra
okra and fried okra - Jaime Shelbert/Tasting Table

If you're a fan of Southern cooking, you've already been introduced to okra, one of the most controversial ingredients around. The slim pod has a bright green flavor similar to raw green beans but has an infamous gooey texture when sliced. The sticky substance is mucilage, which thickens up when cooked, making okra a convenient addition to soups and stews. The most celebrated use is in savory gumbo, which takes its name from the word for okra in a few Bantu languages, used in several West African countries. But when quickly pan-fried or roasted, okra becomes crunchy and full of flavor, with no trace of the slippery texture that some find unpleasant.

Okra is thought to have originated in East Africa, where Ethiopia now is, but has traveled far and wide throughout history, growing best in areas with hot climates, particularly India and West Africa. That's one reason why you'll see okra used in recipes from warm places, like South Asia, Brazil, and, of course, the American South, where it was most likely introduced by enslaved people in the 1700s. If you'd like to try cooking this tasty, often-overlooked pod, we've collected a set of our best okra recipes to tempt you.

Read more: Restaurant Foods That Always Taste Better Than What You Make At Home

1. Shrimp And Okra Gumbo

shrimp and okra gumbo
shrimp and okra gumbo - Hayley McLean/Tasting Table

With a dark brown roux and the traditional taste of onion, celery, and bell peppers -- aka the Holy Trinity of Southern cooking, this Creole tomato-based shrimp gumbo is sure to please okra lovers and novices alike.

The okra is cooked lightly first and then added near the end of cooking to bring its signature flavor and texture to the pot. There's a pleasant heat to the soup thanks to three kinds of pepper, along with a Cajun spice blend and hot sauce to add more depth. Steamed white rice and an extra sprinkle of filé powder are all you need to complete this satisfying meal.

Recipe: Shrimp And Okra Gumbo Recipe

2. Pan Fried Okra

pan fried okra
pan fried okra - Jamie Shelbert/Tasting Table

If you love crunchy fried foods, you can't go wrong with pan-fried okra. The cornmeal crust in this recipe absorbs the goo and helps the coating stay on for a crispy bite with each piece. Recipe developer Jaime Shelbert advises steaming the cut okra in a covered skillet for about eight minutes to soften the texture before sprinkling on seasonings and a handful of finely ground cornmeal. With just two tablespoons of olive oil in the pan, the delicious flavor of this fried okra is not hidden under a thick layer of oily breading.

Recipe: Pan Fried Okra Recipe

3. Crispy Roasted Okra

crispy roasted okra
crispy roasted okra - Michelle McGlinn/Tasting Table

This oven-roasted version of whole crispy okra pods is the perfect solution if you prefer not to do the prep work that slicing okra entails. Seasoned with smoky paprika, chili powder, garlic, and onion, the flavor is irresistible. The crunchy exterior comes from a coating of potato starch and the high heat of your oven. These make a delightful finger food appetizer with your favorite dipping sauce, or serve them as the perfect side dish with a Cajun-inspired menu.

Recipe: Crispy Roasted Okra Recipe

4. Instant Pot Gumbo

instant pot gumbo
instant pot gumbo - Miriam Hahn/Tasting Table

For gumbo lovers looking for the ultimate in convenience, this recipe calls for pre-sliced frozen okra and very little washing up. After a few minutes of browning the flavorful sausage, the rest of the ingredients, apart from the okra, get added to the Instant Pot and finished on the high-pressure setting for just 20 minutes. Then the okra goes into the hot gumbo for 5 minutes to quickly cook through before serving. There may be no simpler and speedier way to get delicious gumbo on the table than this.

Recipe: Instant Pot Gumbo Recipe

5. Sausage And Seafood Gumbo

sausage and seafood gumbo
sausage and seafood gumbo - Dave Katz/Tasting Table

Any list of great okra recipes is sure to include a gumbo rich in coastal seafood. This recipe is adapted from Ron Iafrate, from Chef Ron's Gumbo Stop, Metairie, LA, and includes four varieties of shellfish guaranteed to enrich your bowl: Crawfish, shrimp, crab, and shucked oysters. With a roux cooked nearly to the black stage, shrimp stock, spicy andouille sausage, and a heavy dose of garlic, this richly delicious cheffy gumbo is balanced at the very end of its long simmer by the addition of the fresh seafood and thickening power of okra.

Recipe: Sausage And Seafood Gumbo Recipe

6. Raita With Okra

raita with okra
raita with okra - Jogy Abraham/Getty Images

Fried okra is the garnish for this spice-laced yogurt side dish familiar to lovers of South Asian food. The recipe takes advantage of a surefire way to reduce the sticky texture of okra -- a quick, very high-heat saute to brown and crisp it, no more than 6 to 8 minutes in the pan. The more heat applied to okra, the more the starchy mucilage is released, so the speed of cooking matters here. There's no starch to burn in the pan, just a bit of hot oil does the trick perfectly.

Recipe: Raita With Okra

7. South Indian Okra Sambar Stew

okra sambar stew
okra sambar stew - Lizzie Munro/Tasting Table

In this fragrantly complex South Indian stew adapted from one by Troy MacLarty, chef at Bollywood Theater in Portland, Oregon, the star ingredient, okra, is dry roasted whole in a hot oven, along with carrots and onions. The vegetables are then folded into a thick lentil dal near the end of its cooking time, providing structure for the spice-laden stew. The homemade sambar masala, or spice mix, along with fiery serrano peppers and tart tamarind puree make this thick stew an adventure with each mouthful.

Recipe: South Indian Okra Sambar Stew

8. Crock Pot Chicken Gumbo

crockpot gumbo
crockpot gumbo - Julianne De Witt/Tasting Table

For a hands-off approach to savory gumbo, your crock pot is the way to go. Although the initial cooking of the Holy Trinity of onion, celery, and bell peppers happens on the stove, the rest of the 3-hour simmering time is spent in the crock pot on high, allowing the rich spices and meat flavors to blend deeply. Just as in the other gumbo recipes here, our tender okra is added near the end of cooking to preserve some snappy texture and flavor.

Recipe: Crockpot Chicken Gumbo Recipe

9. Fried Okra With Cucumber Raita

fried okra with cucumber raita
fried okra with cucumber raita - Lizzie Munro/Tasting Table

Another tasty recipe adapted from Troy MacLarty's Bollywood Theater in Portland, Oregon, brings intensely crispy, thin slices of okra to the table with a flavorful yogurt raita to dip them in. You'll need a mandolin to get just the right cut for this treat. The okra slices get a quick 2-minute deep fry that turns them into a light, golden-brown crispy bite. MacLarty likes to sprinkle the okra chips with salt mixed with tart amchoor and bright Kashmiri chili powders as a finishing touch. There's no trace of slime in this okra, just a crunchy and spicy starter perfect for any South Asian menu.

Recipe: Fried Okra With Cucumber Raita

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