Okra is a member of the hibiscus family, as anyone who has seen the plant in bloom might notice. The pods grow up to nine inches in length, but most are harvested when they're only two to three inches long and still sweet and tender. Some varieties have ribbed pods; most have a fuzzy outside coating.
This vegetable is sometimes shunned because of its natural tendency to produce a slippery quality, known as "roping," when cut or sliced pods are cooked. The mucilaginous juices help thicken soups and stews. But if you want to keep the roping to a minimum, avoid piercing the pods and cook them whole just until tender-crisp.
Prepare okra for cooking by rinsing the pods with water, using a soft brush (Step 1) to remove any fuzz on the skin. An iron, copper or brass pan will cause a chemical reaction that discolors the okra, but it is harmless.
If the okra is to be cooked whole, trim the stems (Step 2), but avoid piercing the pods. Whole okra may be steamed, boiled, braised, sauteed or battered with cornmeal and deep-fried.
Slicing okra (Step 3) produces flower-like rounds filled with small white seeds. When cooked, the mucilaginous juices are released (Step 4).