Ingredients: shrimp, okra, tempura batter mix, flour, peanut oil, salt.
The last time I cooked with okra was about 3 years ago. I made a huge batch of gumbo, into which I incorporated half a bag of frozen okra. That was some delicious gumbo… except for the okra. I liked its flavor well enough (reminiscent of roasted green pepper and eggplant), but I couldn’t get past the squishy/slimy consistency. It was totally gross. I hate wasting food though, so I attempted to bread & fry the remaining frozen okra, with no less unappealing results. [Was that a triple negative? I'll leave it; seems appropriate.]
Now, I take some pride in my palate. Very few culinary ingredients turn me off, and I like it that way. But I couldn’t lie to myself: okra was not something I ever wanted to put past my lips again.
Then I saw this post for Indian stir-fried okra. It looked great (as do all of Sebastian’s posts), but what really piqued my interest was his tale of plucking fresh okra pods and snacking on them “like french fries.” Wow! That is some seriously appealing imagery. I had no idea that okra could be eaten raw, or that it could somehow not be slimy.
I have since looked into de-sliming technique, and I present to you a few pointers:
- Slicing releases the slime, so do as little of that as possible. Use a sharp knife to minimize bruising.
- Slime runs vertically through the pod, so horizontal slices are guaranteed to release all of it. Try julienning the okra instead, or leaving it whole.
- The longer you cook okra, the more slime will emerge.
- Slime is water-soluble, so avoid steaming or stewing the okra, unless you are also using plenty of acid (such as tomato or vinegar) to break it down.
- Conversely, frying or stir-frying in oil prevents the slime from leaching out.
In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense that frozen okra would lead to excessive slime. Freezing any vegetable leads to cell wall damage from ice crystals. In the case of okra, that means free-flowing slime. So, avoid frozen okra for everything but stewed dishes.
Soon after regaining the desire to consume okra, I had the good fortune to stumble upon a lovely unmarked package of fresh, firm okra at a Chinese market. I dove right in. The raw okra was indeed addictive, crisp and with a hollow little *snap* when bitten into. The seeds did have a slight raw-flour aftertaste, but this was easily covered up with a touch of mayonnaise (or any other salad dressing/dip).
But what to cook? I wanted to see how far I could push the slime prevention, and eventually settled on tempura: no slicing, no water, minimal cooking time. Plus, I still had french fries on the brain after reading that post over at INJI. As you can see, I also chose to batter fry some big juicy tiger shrimp along with the okra. I used a box mix, so there’s not much to report as far as preparation goes.
The tempura was crunchy and savory, heavier than anticipated but still (predictably) delicious. The okra was fleshy, not slimy. This felt like a huge victory, for which I credit the opportunity to work with fresh okra. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it in the future, and I recommend you do the same!