Okra grows in an elongated, lantern shape vegetable. It is a fuzzy, green colored, and ribbed pod that is approximately 2 to 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 is also known as bamia, bindi, bhindi, lady's finger, and gumbo, is a member of the cotton (Mallow) family.
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 will now see okra in African, Middle Eastern, Greek, Turkish, Indian, Caribbean, and South American cuisines. Okra is related to cotton and hibiscus.
Okra is a Powerhouse of Nutrients
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 (20 calories per one-half cup cooked, sliced okra) and is fat-free. Okra is also a good source of vitamin a, calcium and fiber.
People cultivated okra for the pods, which are harvested in the immature stage and used in salads and soups. Okra is a prime ingredient of the gumbos and stews of Louisiana.
Current indications are that a diet containing okra has value in reducing cholesterol levels.
Varieties of Okra
Clemson variety is dark green with angular pods. This okra takes less than two months to mature.
Emerald type is dark green, with smooth round pods.
Lee is a spineless type known by its deep bright green, very straight angular pods.
Annie Oakley is a hybrid, spineless kind of okra with bright green, angular pods. It takes less than two months from seeding to maturity.
Chinese okra is a dark green type grown in California and reaches 10 to 13 inches in length. These extra-long okra pods are sometimes called "ladyfingers."
Purple Okra a rare variety you may see at peak times. There is a version grown for its leaves that resemble sorrel in New Guinea.
Availability, Selection, and Storage of Okra
When preparing, remember that the more okra 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, sauteed, or stir-fried whole. Okra is a sensitive vegetable and should not be cooked in pans made of iron, copper or brass since the chemical properties turns okra black.
Young Versus Mature Okra -- What is the difference?
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 two to three inches long, or tender stage.
Okra pods grow quickly from the tender to tough stage. Pods are considered mature when they exceed three inches in length. Mature okra is tough and is not recommended for use in certain recipes.
Most people who have eaten or have cooked okra, know about the okra slime. Some recipes call for the whole okra, but how do you deal with the okra slime?
There are couple ways to minimize the slime:
- Simply trim the off the ends and avoid puncturing the okra capsule.
- You can also minimize the slime factor by avoiding the tendency to overcook okra.
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