Okra is a vegetable that provokes a strong response. Your mouth either waters at the thought, or it turns down in distaste. It's delicious! It's slimy! If you're in the love-it camp, here's everything you need to know about buying okra, and the best way to store it at home.
Related: How to Prepare Okra, an Underrated Summer Vegetable You Really Should Try
Native to Africa, okra is the immature seed pod of a member of the hibiscus family, Abelmoschus esculenta (the species name means edible, in Latin). Like other hibiscus family members, the okra plant blooms in late summer through early fall. After the petals drop, the pods appear and the tiniest can be gathered after just a few days. If the okra pods are left on the statuesque plant instead of being harvested, they will thicken and eventually split open to release their seeds. Okra for cooking is harvested when young and tender. It is usually green, but pink and purple cultivars have also been developed (they are very pretty, but taste the same).
Smaller, very slender okra is best if you are going to cook the vegetable whole. Choose okra that is pinkie-sized and slim, with no bulging middle, which would indicate a too-mature pod. Bend its pointy tip. If it is very firm, the okra is very fresh. You could even snap the tip off. A bendy tip means the okra has been sitting around for too long. The okra's body should yield slightly—too hard means the seeds are very mature. If your okra is going to be sliced to thicken a stew or gumbo, more mature pods will work as they are more mucilaginous. Avoid pods where the seeds are prominent enough to show under the skin. If you do use larger pods, trim of the tip and the tougher, stem-end.
If you are not planning on cooking your okra at once, the best way to keep it fresh is to store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator, where it will keep well for several days. Okra does not keep well long term, so plan to use fresh okra within three days of purchase. Wash it just before cooking, not ahead of time. If necessary, you can refresh tired pods by trimming off their stem-end and submerging them in a large bowl of cool water for a couple of hours.
As avowed okra fans, we recommend that you dive in at once, and become acquainted with the pleasures of silky, slithery, slippery okra when you bring them home from the market.
Related: These Are Martha's Three Favorite Okra Recipes