Why Okra Is Your Secret Weapon For Thickening Soup

closeup of slced okra
closeup of slced okra - Juice Team/Shutterstock

Okra is a staple in many hot, tropical regions from India to Africa to the Deep South. If you've ever cooked with okra, you've probably noticed the gooey, translucent slime it secretes into your saucepan. While many tips exist on how to rid okra of its slime, you can use it to your advantage by making it the secret weapon for thickening homemade soup.

Also prevalent in aloe vera and nopal, the slime in okra is called mucilage. Just as slicing off a hunk of aloe activates the release of the mucilage you'd rub on sunburns, cutting okra also stimulates the secretion of mucilage. Furthermore, mucilage proliferates when it comes in contact with water. It also proliferates the longer it cooks. Soup is a slow-cooking, liquid-filled dish, making it the perfect vessel for the slime's thickening powers. By adding sliced rings of okra into a soup, its slimy mucilage will expand and thicken the broth for a more comforting, full-bodied consistency. Plus, the diced okra will bring an earthy vegetal flavor, a tender yet chewy bite, and a wealth of health benefits to your soup recipe.

You'll still want to look for the freshest okra possible because you want the vegetable itself to taste tender. Small, bright green, immature okra is optimal as the larger and duller mature okra will have tougher, stringier flesh.

Read more: 20 Popular Canned Soups, Ranked Worst To Best

Okra Soup Recipe Pairings

okra in a cocount curry
okra in a cocount curry - SAM THOMAS A/Shutterstock

Okra's ability to thicken soup isn't as secret as you might think; it is one of the key thickening agents in shrimp gumbo, for example. West African cooking also uses okra as both a thickening agent and the star ingredient of okra soup, elaborated with sauteed onions, chilies, red palm oil, fish, goat, or chicken. Not only does okra soup use finely diced okra but it also blends a portion of the okra with water to form a super-thick paste for the soup's creamy foundation.

Okra's grassy, savory flavor pairs well with many seasonings, meats, and vegetables, so it'll taste good in a wide range of soups. You can use it in brothy vegetable or chicken noodle soups. You can also use it to thicken fish stews like this recipe for Brazilian moqueca. Since okra is a popular ingredient in Indian cooking, you know it will pair well with aromatic seasonings like curry, garam masala, cumin, and ginger. You could even put it into a vegan sweet potato dal or coconut milk curry for added thickness and a tasty vegetable complement to the nuttiness of coconut milk. If you like a chunky vegan corn chowder, you can use okra to thicken it without having to blend a portion of the potatoes and corn.

Read the original article on Tasting Table