Manolo's Food Blog Manolo Loves the Food!

September 15, 2009


Filed under: vegetables — Mr. Henry @ 7:38 am

Mrs. Henry wants nothing to do with them. Little Henry calls them hairy and slimy. Invited guests look at them in fright.

Overlooked, maligned, misused and abused, okra are African stepchildren still relegated in western cooking to a subservient role either smothered in fry batter or subsumed in spicy gumbo.

In fact okra is a versatile and appetizing vegetable, its flesh nutritious, its seeds rich in oils. Prepared whole it can be fried, grilled, broiled, steamed or cooked in a microwave. Sliced okra releases a unique mucilage that thickens and binds a braised dish with or without meat. Okra can be pickled or eaten raw. Even its leaves are edible.


Because certain valued family members, despite clear evidence to the contrary, insist okra to be disgusting, Mr. Henry usually cooks them for his own pleasure by nuking a single bowlful and eating them plain. Sometimes, however, he sautées whole ones or runs them under the broiler, a quick and foolproof method for cooking almost any vegetable.

Mr. Henry enjoys the interplay between oily, crunchy seeds and soft green flesh. Such elegant little nibbles, they even come with dainty stems ready-made to grasp between thumb and forefinger. (Might this be the origin of their nickname “ladyfingers?”)

Along with sorghum, millet and watermelon, okra was one of man’s first cultigens in sub-Saharan Africa. Okra is a staple food in India as well as in China, southeast Asia, and the Caribbean. Its curious stickiness creates a medium in which spices blend harmoniously.

Why, then, at the western table can there be no rôle for okra? Is there simply too much goo?

Baby okra can be eaten whole just as they are. For larger ones, take a paring knife and, without piercing the pod’s interior, peel away the rough exterior of the cap. Then scrape away any little hairs along the ridges of the pod. If you want to use sliced pieces without drawing too much mucilage, slice the okra into rounds and let them dry in the air. The slices will seal themselves.


Courtesy of Nadia, here is a marvelous okra stew, a Tunisian recipe called Ganawiyeh after the Gnaoua, a Saharan brotherhood of itinerant musicians:

Okra stew Ganawiyeh

1 lb. London broil, skirt steak, flank steak or sirloin steak cut up for stewing.
1 medium onion, grated
2-3 cloves of garlic chopped or pressed
3 tbs paprika, 2 tbs dry coriander, 1/4 tsp cayenne, salt and black pepper
1/3 cup or less vegetable oil
1 cup strained Pomi (or any other tomato purée)
1 red pepper sliced in strips
Handful of pearl onions (optional)
2 or more cups okra (Fresh is better, but you may also use frozen.)

Place meat and oil in a stew pot
Pour onion,  garlic and spices on top
Brown the meat well
Add tomato purée
Reduce for about 15 minutes
Add enough warm water to cover
Cook meat for 1 hour or more covered until almost fork tender
Add red pepper and onions
For the last 20 minutes of stewing, add okra

All told the meat should cook for about two hours.

This recipe serves four persons and should be eaten with bread.


  1. Sorry, Mr. Henry — I have to side with the missus, the offspring, and the invited guests on this one: Okra is, in fact, disgusting. (And this comes from someone who regularly challenges herself to revisit presumed dislikes and occasionally changes her mind, like when she discovered fresh brussels sprouts – yum.) And, um, “mucilage” is not helping you make the case otherwise. 🙂

    Comment by sabrina — September 15, 2009 @ 9:11 am

  2. Unfortunately, most do not know how to properly prepare okra… Being a southern gal, I have had good orka, horrible okra, and devinely delicious okra… Preparing it is an art few above the Mason Dixon line have talent for… Except of course, My Mr. Henry. ;-*

    Comment by Jennie — September 18, 2009 @ 7:48 pm

  3. Oh my lord, Mr. Henry. You’ve gotta try Rick’s Pick’s “Smokra,” which is whole pickled okra spiced with smoked paprika. Everything about them, right down to the caviar-textured seeds, is delicious.

    Comment by Anon — October 7, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

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