The Lowdown on Okra
Ethiopian slaves brought the okra plant to America’s South, where it’s still popular today.
The green okra pods have a ridged skin and a tapered, oblong shape.
Although available fresh year-round in the South, the season for the rest of the country is from about May through October.
Fresh okra contains fair amounts of vitamins A and C.
When buying fresh okra look for firm, brightly colored pods under 4 inches long. Larger pods may be tough and fibrous. Avoid those that are dull in color, limp or blemished. Okra pods should be green and tender. Do not buy okra if the pods look dry or shriveled because they will lack flavor and be tough. Okra spoils quickly and should be refrigerated as soon as possible.
Refrigerate okra in a plastic bag for up to 3 days. Canned and frozen okra is also available.
These green pods can be prepared in a variety of ways including braising, baking and frying. When cooked, okra gives off a rather viscous substance that serves to thicken any liquid in which it is cooked. Throughout the South, it’s a favorite ingredient in many dishes, the best known being gumbo, where it’s used both for thickening and for flavor.
Never wash okra until you are ready to use it or you will remove a protective coating that keeps the pods from becoming slimy.
Mature okra is used to make rope and paper! (Avoid those old woody pods!).
Okra is excellent sauteed or fried. Very young, tender pods can be sliced, dipped in egg, breaded with corn meal and fried. Saute with corn kernels, onion and sweet peppers. Okra can also be steamed, baked, pickled, boiled or stewed. Because of its similar flavor, it can be used in place of eggplant in many recipes. Use it raw in salads. Avoid long cooking times unless you are making soups, stews or gumbo.
Remember that okra is slimy and sticky – it is supposed to be that way. Okra, with its sticky ooze, provides a wonderful soup thickener; thus it is often used in gumbos and pilaus. If you object to this quality, don’t eat okra. You can’t get rid of this quality by soaking or overcooking. Following is an example of okra used in a delicioius Low-Country soup.
Savannah Okra Soup Recipe
This soup is quite delicious when accompanied by corn bread and rice.
- 1 soup bone
- 2-1/8 quarts okra, sliced
- 1-1/4 pint tomatoes, peeled and diced
Salt to taste
Put soup bone in large saucepan or pot with enough water to cover. Boil for 1 hour.
Add okra and tomatoes to the pot. Set stove to medium heat (just under boiling) and cook for 3 hours, or until the soup is well blended and thick. Add salt to taste before serving.
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