5 Unusual Uses for Okra

Since okra pods need regular harvesting, you're probably scrambling to pick them so often that you've run out of ways to use them. Whether you're tired of traditional dishes like fried okra or just don't have enough time to make a labor-intensive dinner every time you harvest those prolific pods, I've put together some interesting ways to use them up. From edible blooms and sensational stir-frys to coffee substitutes and biofuel, you're in for a few surprises.

Put Small Harvests to Use
So what to do with all that okra? Luckily it tastes good with just about anything and can be added to your other recipes on the fly. Okra is also a popular component of cuisines around the world, and it has been used in the Caribbean, Middle-east, Africa and South Asia far longer than it became a 'Southern food'. Since it has a light and unobtrusive flavor, you can add it to just about any stir-fry recipe. Need a quicker dish? Okra tastes superb with summer squash medallions on medium-high heat so that they get crispy and caramelized! I'm sure you'll have lots of other good ideas, so share away!

Thicken Stews -
The notorious slime produced by okra pods is easily cut down with the help of dry heat or acidity (tomato sauce or lemon juice), but rather than find ways around the slime, why not embrace it? After all, it's no coincidence that 'gumbo' is yet another common name for this versatile vegetable, and it does indeed help thicken gumbos and other stews from around the world. Add it to curries, soups and sauces, either sliced or whole. Whole pods can be removed before serving if desired. Oh, and why not use it to thicken your homemade beauty products?

Illustration by Steve Asbell
Save Okra for Later 
Okra might be tasty, but if your daily harvests are getting in the way of variety in the kitchen, you can preserve okra by pickling, dehydrating or baking. Carolyn Binder has a great recipe for Spicy Pickled Okra on her blog, Cowlick Cottage Farm, but you can probably substitute okra for cucumbers in other pickle recipes too.  If you'd rather just save your okra for lunch the next day, I found a promising recipe for Oven Roasted Okra Fries over at Lesley Eats. I also found that by leaving sauteed okra on a warm skillet for an hour (was waiting for the Mrs.) I was able to make sweet little crispy okra morsels that could be added to salads for a bit of crunch.

Make Okra Coffee
What do you do when the pods get too big and become too tough and stringy to eat? Make coffee! A surgeon in the Civil War deemed  'Okra the best substitute for coffee' in this fascinating transcript from 1863. I'm a bit of a coffee snob myself and turn my nose up at Mrs. Rainforest Gardener when she brings home Maxwell House instead of 'real coffee', so I probably won't be making okra coffee anytime soon. If you've tried it yourself, feel free to sing its praises!

Cook Okra Greens and Flowers
The leaves and blooms of the okra plant are edible too, but they are unique among greens because they have the same mucilaginous (slimy) properties as the pods themselves. There aren't many English-language recipes available, but this one from The Food Network is a start. A blog post from The Serendipitous Chef actually uses a different plant that is used similarly but has so many comments from around the world attesting to the usefulness of the leaves that it's really worth sharing here. Though they don't really have enough flavor to stand out, the chopped and slightly bitter leaves can be added in small amounts to thicken stews from regions as diverse as Egypt, Vietnam and Nigeria. The edible hibiscus-like flowers of okra can also be added as a garnish to dishes that need a little tropical style.

When Okra is Too Tough
Seasoned gardeners will tell you that okra pods need to be harvested every other day - this prevents the tender 'lady fingers' from turning into tough and calloused ogre fingers, and keeps the plants from shutting down production for the season. Gardeners are often told to harvest okra before it gets five inches long, but I've found that the pods can get longer than that and still remain tender. You'll be able to tell if okra is too tough when you're at the cutting board and considering whether or not you should break out the loppers or a hack saw to slice the woody pods. That's when okra is past its prime. At the end of summer okra pods can be left to mature until they turn brown and woody so that seeds may be collected and stored until next year.

Other Uses for Okra
Okra's large and palmate leaves make them attractive enough to be grown as an ornamental plant in their own right (especially the red variety) and the hibiscus-esque blooms lend a tropical flair to the summer garden. But did you know that the oil-rich seeds show a lot of potential for use as a biofuel? Now that's some soulfood.

If all of these uses have somehow made okra seem unappetizing, there's no need to worry. Because it probably tastes infinitely better than okra coffee, here's a recipe for okra fries with garden herb aioli to make you forget all about its uses as a biofuel or shampoo. In what tasty ways do you put your okra to use?

Other Fun Foodie Posts
Why your Mango Tastes Awful
5 Exotic Fruits Ripe for Dessert
Healthy Blueberry Muffins
Growing your Own Ginger from the Grocery Store


  1. Thanks! I'm up to my ears in okra. Family is balking at okra sorbets, okra quiche, okra sandwiches. Okra fried rice was a hit though! :)

    1. Grilled okra is the best of all. Light coat of olive oil to make the spice stick and then use Cajun spice mix to taste. Grill on a grill or in the oven. Doesn't take long so you have to keep an eye on it to keep it from burning.

  2. Those sound like some good recipes!

  3. When I was in Nicaragua I learned that the Miskito Indians were taught by missonarys to grow okra,it grows well down there.The missionarys were surprised when they came back to check on them that the Indians were grinding the seeds up and cutting their coffee with it.

  4. We cut it lengthwise scrape out the core/seeds, grill it and refill center with peanut butter while still warm. Kids love it.

  5. Slice it up and put it in the food dehydrator (can season any way you like). When crispy dry put it in zip loc bags to stay crunchy. Eat as a snack food like chips or nuts!

  6. In Turkey they line them up on a string (with a neadle) and dry them for later use


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