Recipe Corner Cooking Techniques

Okra Is Everyone's Native Son

Okra _Bhindi MasalaWant to see a real food fight? During what is usually an uneventful lunch hour, whip up a conversation regarding okra-related recipes with any coworkers from the Southern US; Lagos, Nigeria; and New Delhi, India. Ask a seemingly innocent question, something along the lines of, "Does anyone know the best way to prepare okra?" Then take a step back and wait.

First, here's a bit of context for the heated discussion that's about to happen:

-Indians have worked culinary magic with bhindi (Hindi for "okra"), pan-frying the vegetable and adding a mélange of spices -- a masala -- which creates fragrant, full-flavored vegetarian dishes.

-West Africans gave us not only a signature okra soup but the very words for "okra," as well as "gumbo." (Across the Atlantic, okra is sometimes used as a thickener in various Louisiana gumbo recipes).

-Americans, particularly those with ties to East Texas, the Deep South and the Coastal South, adore okra fried, stewed with tomatoes and onions, or as a pickled condiment with black-eyed peas and cornbread.

Hence, a "who-has-the-best-okra" discussion with an international gathering can get quite colorful, de-sliming tips and all. To get rid of the slime, soak 'em in vinegar and then rinse with cold water... You ought to pan-fry them a bit... We cook them with acidic foods, generally tomatoes... If they're deep-fried, y'all don't need to worry 'bout it.

Uh-oh, now you've really stirred the pot: how delicious! Okra is a key ingredient in multiple cultural comfort foods, tied to many a childhood memory, so please proceed with caution, folks -- and a large napkin.