Embracing Okra!

Fried, roasted, or boiled, there’s no wrong way to enjoy this hot-weather crop.

courtesy Lake Tahoe Markets

So what is okra?
 
While many associate okra with summertime in the Southeastern United States, it’s actually grown all over the world. The exact origin of this green, somewhat slimy vegetable is unknown for certain but has been traced back to West Africa, Ethiopia, and even South Asia. It was brought to the Americas centuries ago with the Atlantic Slave Trade. It’s an essential ingredient in many types of cuisine still today, including in the U.S. as mentioned, plus parts of Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, India, and South America.
 
This hot-weather crop means something different to everybody. Regardless of how you enjoy it, there’s no denying okra is a versatile vegetable that’s surprisingly high in nutritional value. Here’s everything you need to know about okra.
 
What is okra?  These fuzzy green veggies are actually the immature seed pods of the Abelmoschus esculentus, or okra plant. They also go by the names “gumbo” and “lady’s fingers,” depending on where you are.  Okra grows best in hot, humid climates, with India being the leading okra producer. While we might know this plant as a vegetable for culinary purposes, botanically it’s a fruit, as it’s the seed-bearing part of the plant.
 
Okra can be divisive for its slimy texture. It contains mucilage, which is a naturally occurring substance that acts as a thickener for stews or gumbos, of course. While some are off-put by this, others find its unique texture perfect for roasting or frying. Quick roasting and dry heat can help minimize the sliminess.  It also has a peach-like fuzz on the exterior and a mild, somewhat grassy taste. Okra is commonly used in soups, canning, frying, roasting, or boiling.
 
While frying is not the best way to prepare vegetables for health, you can still reap the benefits of okra even in fried form. Okra is rich in fiber and protein, and low in calories. Vegetables often lack significant amounts of protein, making okra unique in this aspect. Plus it’s chock full of vitamins (including vitamin C) and antioxidants.
 
No matter which way you choose to prepare it, okra will need to be rinsed and patted dry before cutting or slicing. Depending on which cooking method you intend to use, okra can be cut into rounds, sliced lengthwise, or cut diagonally. If you’re planning to cook your okra on low heat, like for gumbo, you can also soak it in vinegar before cooking to help reduce the slime.  For okra that is crisp and crunchy, try roasting, frying or grilling to help minimize the slimy texture and bring out the grassy flavor of okra. If you’re looking for melt-in-your-mouth okra that doubles as a thickening agent, try cooking it low and slow in a stew.  Looking to get the best of both worlds? Sauteed okra still gives you that moist and tender texture but with just a hint of crispness. Okra and tomatoesis a classic example.

Reprinted courtesy Lake Tahoe Markets

Until Next Time…

Happy Gardening…

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