A member of the mallow family, according to Gardens All, okra is botanically related to the original marshmallow, a sweet concoction that bore little resemblance to today’s sugar-packed snack. Like its cousin marsh mallow (the plant), okra is mucilaginous (via Sustainable Food Center), hence the “slime” — a quality that Harvest to Table says makes it an excellent thickening agent in dishes like gumbo and other stews.
In addition to pre-prep hacks like freezing or soaking in vinegar, cooking method can have a marked impact on the slime factor. Southern Living suggests recipes that call for high heat (like sautéing, roasting, or grilling) work best with the misunderstood ingredient — and let’s not forget fried okra. There’s (probably) not a food in the world that doesn’t taste great crispy deep-fried, right?
Even Tom Colicchio eventually succumbed to okra’s appeal. Almost a decade after his hardline assertion in The New York Times, Colicchio good-naturedly back-pedaled when, as reported in the Dallas Observer, he declared an okra dish made by chef John Tesar “one of the best dishes of the night” during an episode of Bravo’s Top Chef. If properly prepared okra can prove chef Colicchio wrong, we’re sure you can be turned around on the ingredient as well.