Originating near Ethiopia and Sudan, okra has become a popular vegetable crop all over the world. You can find okra at your local farmer’s market or grocery store starting in early spring until the end of the summer. Look for pods that are plump and full of color. Most people prefer smaller pods because they are very tender. Okra is also available frozen year round.
More than fried
When it comes to eating okra, many Southerners first think fried, but there are several other ways to enjoy okra.
Okra can be eaten whole or chopped into discs. Chopped okra is often added to soups, stews and casseroles. Fresh whole okra can grilled or baked for a tasty treat.
To add flavor to grilled or baked okra without adding too much sodium and extra calories, lightly coat fresh okra with a mixture of oil, herbs and spices, such as dill, lemongrass, thyme, cilantro, chives, parsley, black pepper or garlic. For a spicy kick, mix in a little cayenne pepper or wasabi powder.
Okra is a low-calorie, low-fat, low-sodium food that provides some carbohydrates, protein and a good amount of fiber, both soluble (which can help lower your cholesterol level) and insoluble fiber (which prevents constipation and may help prevent colorectal cancer). Okra is also loaded with vitamins and minerals such as iron, phosphorus, zinc, folate, calcium, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins, and vitamins A, C and K.
Once the weather is warm, plant seeds in rows at least 12-18 inches apart, and space seeds at least 6 inches apart in each row. Water and remove weeds regularly. Four or five plants usually produce enough okra for one family to eat throughout the season. If storing or canning okra, plant more. When pods are 2 to 4 inches long, use scissors to cut the stem that connects the okra to the plant.
When storing fresh okra, place dry, unwashed pods loosely in perforated plastic bags and refrigerate. Okra can also be canned, pickled, dried or frozen for later use.
To learn more about preserving okra, visit the National Center for Food Preservation’s website. The center is housed by University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.
Fun okra facts
- Some countries near the Mediterranean roast okra seeds and prepare them much like we prepare coffee.
- A healthy oil can be made from okra seeds.
- The Swahili word for okra is “gumbo.”
- 1 cup uncooked long-grain brown rice
- 3 to 4 large (6 to 8 medium) fresh tomatoes, chopped
- 3 yellow medium-size squash or zucchini, sliced and quartered
- 12 medium fresh okra pods, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, diced
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
- 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 cups water
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 3 tablespoons water
- Prepare brown rice according to package instructions. Start the rice while preparing the stew, allowing enough time for the rice to cook.
- Combine vegetables and spices in a large, deep skillet. Add 2 cups of water, and cook over high heat until the okra feels tender when gently pierced with a fork (about 10 to 15 minutes). Stir frequently.
- Combine flour and 3 tablespoons water in a small bowl, and stir thoroughly to make a smooth, thin paste. Add the paste to the stew a little at a time, stirring constantly, until it thickens.
- Continue cooking until zucchini/squash are cooked to desired doneness. Serve over rice.
Nutrition Analysis (per serving):
Calories: 209, Carbohydrates: 44 grams, Protein: 8 grams, Fat: 2 grams, Saturated Fat: less than 1 gram, Fiber: 6 grams, Sodium: 457 milligrams
Note: 1.5 cans of diced low sodium tomatoes can be substituted for the fresh tomatoes. For a spicier dish, substitute cayenne pepper for black pepper.