Okra is a powerhouse of nutrition
Corinne Powell June 11, 2012 3:16PM
Updated: July 14, 2012 6:09AM
Okra grows in an elongated, lantern shape vegetable. It is a fuzzy, green-colored ribbed pod that is approximately 2-7 inches in length. This vegetable is more famously known by its rows of tiny seeds and slimy or sticky texture when cut open.
Okra was discovered around Ethiopia during the 12th century B.C. and was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians. This vegetable soon flourished throughout North Africa and the Middle East where the seed pods were consumed cooked and the seeds toasted, ground and served as a coffee substitute.
With the advent of the slave trade, it eventually came to North America and is now commonly grown in the southern United States. You’ll now see okra in African, Middle Eastern, Greek, Turkish, Indian, Caribbean and South American cuisines.
Okra is commonly associated in Southern, Creole and Cajun cooking since it was initially introduced into the United States in its southern region. It grows well in the southern United States where there is little frost.
Okra is a powerhouse of valuable nutrients. It is a good source of vitamin C. It is low in calories and is fat-free.
Selection and storage
Okra is available year-round, with a peak season during the summer months. It is available either frozen or fresh.
When buying fresh okra, make sure that you select dry, firm okra. They should be medium to dark green in color and blemish-free.
Fresh okra should be used the same day that it was purchased or stored in a paper bag in the warmest part of the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Severe cold temperatures will speed up okra decay.
Do not wash the okra pods until ready to use or they will become slimy.
When preparing okra, remember that the more it is cut, the slimier it will become.
Its various uses allow for okra to be added to many different recipes. Okra is commonly used as a thickening agent in soups and stews because of its sticky core.
However, okra may also be steamed, boiled, pickled, sautéed or stir-fried whole.
Okra is a sensitive vegetable and should not be cooked in pans made of iron, copper or brass because the chemical properties turns okra black.
Young vs. mature okra
Most okra pods are ready to be harvested in less than two months of planting. If the okra is going be consumed, then these pods must be harvested when they are very young. They are usually picked when they are 2-3 inches long.
Okra pods grow quickly from the tender to tough stage. Pods are considered mature when they exceed 3 inches in length. Mature okra is tough and is not recommended for use in certain recipes.
Makes 6 servings
1 pound okra, uncut
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 pound fresh green beans
2 large garlic cloves, crushed then chopped
1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
Wash okra pods, trim stems; do not remove caps. Rinse well and drain. Wash beans and cut into 3-inch lengths. Combine water, tomato paste, olive oil, onion, garlic, salt and pepper in a sauce pan and mix well. Heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to boil. Add okra and beans and additional water if necessary to almost cover vegetables.
Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer gently until vegetables are crisp-tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Serve warm or cold.
This dish can also be oven-baked. Instead of simmering, lightly cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350°F.