UPDATED June 1st, 2018
Everyone should learn how to cook okra properly—this vegetable has a very undeserved bad reputation! Yes, some love it, but okra also tops the list of many people’s most hated foods. Renowned U.K. chef Simon Rogan writes it off completely saying, “I don’t like the look or the slimy texture. It’s a pointless veg.” Sliminess is common, and in some ways valid, complaint. Okra is often used as a thickener for stews and soups because it contains mucilage, which is the same goo we welcome in aloe vera plants. Heat and liquid make the mucilage come out so the key is to prepare it in a way he doesn’t encourage the ooze or just make use of the goo in a tasty gumbo. In fact, gumbo actually means okra.
Okra is an ancient vegetable that came to the U.S. from Africa and the West Indies. Unfortunately, it was by way of African slaves and slave traders in the 1600s. This has something to do with why it’s such a quintessentially southern delicacy. Culinary historian and author Jessica Harris explains, “Okra is connected indelibly with the American South. While gumbo, the flagship dish of New Orleans, is usually thickened with okra, the technique is actually an adaptation of soupikandia, a Senegalese soupy stew slave cooks prepared in plantation kitchens for both themselves and their owners.”