Tricks to Okra: Try it in a Cajun Rice Salad with Shrimp

Okra is a staple in what has become “trendy” — good ol’ Southern cooking. But let’s be blunt: Can you get past the slimy texture?

If the answer is yes, then you will have one of the very best vegan thickeners around. The thick, viscous liquid (slime!) that’s produced when the carbohydrates and proteins in okra pods are cooked is known as mucilage. It thickens Creole stews and gumbos, as well as Indian curries. When classically stewed with tomatoes, all the textures melt together into a pot of Southern “love.”

Or, to preserve its snappy texture, okra is often pickled. It’s also virtually slime-free when grilled, which also adds smoky flavors that pair well with peppers and spicy chiles.

Okra isn’t hard to cook, but there are a few tricks. In this salad, okra is cooked quickly to keep it from becoming mushy, yet long enough to release the natural thickeners that help form a salad dressing and keep the rice moist. In terms of nutrition, okra is high in fiber, with 2 grams per half-cup serving; it is also rich in potassium, folate, magnesium, and vitamins C and K.

If you can find fresh okra — which is season right now at farmers markets — buy a batch. Look for small okra, no longer than about 4 inches. Snack on them raw, and use them as a surprising addition to a crudite platter.Frozen okra is also perfect in this salad. The frozen version makes this salad an easy side come autumn and tailgating parties; it’s also a quick, convenient dinner salad for any time of year.

Cajun Rice Salad with Shrimp and Okra

Serves 6

Ingredients:

Cajun seasoning:

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon hot paprika

1 teaspoon dried oregano (crushed between fingers)

11/2 teaspoons garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice (optional)

Salad ingredients:

1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning (purchased or see recipe above), divided

1 cup uncooked brown rice

1 pound raw peeled, tail-off shrimp (sized 31 to 40 shrimp per pound), thawed if frozen

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 cups (7 ounces) fresh or frozen okra, sliced 3/4 inch thick (if frozen, do not thaw)

1 large orange or yellow bell pepper, chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions:

Combine all seasoning ingredients; set aside.

Combine 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning with rice and cook according to rice package directions. Set aside in a bowl.

Meanwhile, in a large microwave-safe bowl, combine shrimp, lemon juice, oil and 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning; cover bowl with plastic wrap, leaving a 1-inch vented opening. Microwave at 80 percent power for about 3 minutes or until shrimp are opaque, stirring every 1 minute. Add shrimp with cooking liquid to cooked rice.

In a small saucepan, bring okra (fresh or frozen) and 1/2 cup water to a boil and cook for 3 minutes until tender crisp; add to shrimp and rice.

Stir bell pepper and parsley into rice salad and serve at room temperature.

Notes: Microwaving seafood is one of the best ways to cook it to prevent overcooking. Microwaves vary, however, so watch carefully.

This salad is even better the second day; however, the okra will lose its brilliant green color from the acidic lemon juice in the dressing. So if you plan to make it ahead, keep the okra separate from the salad.

You will have leftover Cajun seasoning; use it on scrambled eggs, fish, roasted tomatoes or any veggies.

Per serving (1/6 of recipe): Calories 215; Fat 3 g (Saturated 0 g); Sodium 562 mg; Carbohydrate 25 g; Fiber 3 g; Sugars 7 g; Protein 22 g

Related Links:

Serena Ball, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian nutritionist. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com sharing tips and tricks to help readers find cooking shortcuts for making healthy, homemade meals. Her recipes are created with families in mind.

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