Okra, More Than Meets the Eye

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okra


Ask most people what they think about okra and the word “slimy” often comes to mind. Okra does have a unique texture. Hidden behind its fuzzy, green and ribbed fingerlike shape, and a reputation for slime, okra is much more than meets the eye.

What is it?

You might be surprised to learn that okra is a vegetable that is in the cotton and hibiscus family. It’s a flowering plant that is in the mallow family. The seed pod of the plant is the vegetable commonly referred to as Okra. Okra is also commonly called lady’s fingers or gumbo. Experts suggest that okra began being grown and cultivated in the United States in the early 1800’s.

Okra has enjoyed a vast and diverse history. There’s some dispute about where it originated. However, historians do know that it made its way across the ocean to the Mediterranean as well as across the desert to Saudi Arabia and India. Available year round in the south, okra requires a warm climate to thrive.

It’s a lovely plant with a seed pod, fruit, and flowers. The seed pod grows to be between two and seven inches long. The seed pod slime is the plants way of storing nutrients for the plant’s survival. The slime is often used as a thickening agent in many cuisines and recipes.

Health Benefits

A half cup of cooked okra has about 20 calories. That same half cup provides 20% of the RDA for calcium. It’s also high in vitamin A, dietary fiber, and iron. It is cholesterol free, fat free and a great source of folate and antioxidants.

Fun Fact

There are actually several varieties of okra or “bindi” as it is commonly known outside the United States. Purple okra is grown in New Guinea and Annie Oakley okra, a hybrid, is bright green and matures rapidly – less than two months.

How to Eat

The southern dish, gumbo, is what okra is most notable for. However, there are many ways to prepare and enjoy okra. Okra is delicious when breaded and fried. It can also be added to soups and stews. And if you enjoy pickled vegetables then try pickled okra.

Like many vegetables, the leaves of the okra plant are often consumed. They can be eaten raw in a salad or cooked. The seeds of the okra plant also serve a number of purposes. They can be used to make oil. They can also be roasted used to make a caffeine free coffee like beverage.

Okra may be an odd looking fuzzy seed pod that emits slime when it’s heated. However, it is also delicious and nutritious. Try okra today. You can find it in your grocer’s produce section and cut and prepared in the freezer section, too.

 

Okra Recipes

 

Fried Okra Poppers

24 Ritz crackers
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
2 ounces chilled pepper jack cheese
12 medium okra
2 cups corn oil or other vegetable oil for frying
Salsa (for serving)

In a food processor, finely grind crackers. Whisk together cracker crumbs, flour, and salt to taste. In another bowl beat egg. Cut pepper Jack into twelve 1½ x ½ x ¼-inch pieces. With a sharp knife cut a 2-inch slit lengthwise on side of each okra. With your fingers gently pull slit slightly open and insert a slice of cheese. Transfer okra to a plate and chill 5 minutes. Working in batches of 4, dip stuffed okra in egg to coat, roll in cracker crumb mixture. Arrange coated okra in one layer on plate and chill 5 minutes.

In a deep 10-inch heavy skillet heat oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Fry okra, 4 at a time, turning them, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon transfer okra to paper towels to drain. Season okra with salt and serve hot with salsa.

Makes 12 poppers.

 

Okra Fry Bread

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup self-rising flour
2 teaspoons salt
2½ cups water
1 (16 ounce) bag whole okra, sliced into ½-inch rounds
½ cup chopped Vidalia onions
1 tablespoon clarified butter, plus more as needed

In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour and salt. Whisk in water to make a thin batter. Stir in okra and onions.

Over medium heat, add clarified butter to a cast iron skillet. Use a small ladle to pour batter onto skillet. Pan should be hot enough to make batter sizzle. Cook until underside is browned, about 3 to 4 minutes, then flip and brown on the other side. Repeat with additional batter, adding more butter as necessary.

 

Roasted Okra

18 fresh okra pods, sliced 3 inch thick
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons black pepper, or to taste

Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F.

Arrange the okra slices in one layer on a foil lined cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

 

Pickled Okra

Okra, boiled for 1 minute
Hot pepper pods
clove of garlic
dill sprigs
1 quart vinegar
1 quart bottled or filtered water
½ cup canning salt

Pack okra into jar. For each pint jar, add 1 pod of pepper, 1 clove garlic and 1 dill sprig. Bring vinegar to a boil and add water and salt, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Pour over okra. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Store for at least 2 weeks before using.