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Okra

Okra

This little edible seed pod adds unique flavor and gummy texture to all sorts of soups and stews. And these days, adventurous chefs are also preparing it in ways that keep okra snappy and fresh!

Nutritional Highlights

  • You might not associate okra with vitamin C, but this little pod is an excellent source of it. Just 85 grams of boiled okra - or a little more than 1/2 cup (about 8 pods, three-inches long)- delivers 20 percent Daily Value of this essential antioxidant, which enhances the absorption of minerals (such as iron/zinc/copper).
  • Okra is also an excellent source of vitamin K — a nutrient that helps blood to clot.

History

You're probably familiar with it from stew or gumbo, but did you know that okra, which we consider a vegetable, is technically a part of the cotton family? This green, fuzzy, lantern- or chili-shaped pod is a Southern staple, usually as a stew thickener. When boiled, okra becomes somewhat gooey, making it perfect for gumbo. However, this tasty green veggie can also be lightly steamed or stir fried to keep it crisp and crunchy.

Okra goes by a number of aliases — bamia, bhindi, bindi and gumbo, to name a few. These names trace the veggie's history back to Africa. Natives there typically picked out, roasted and pulverized the seeds, using them like coffee grounds. Today, cooks usually leave them in and prepare okra pods whole.

Varieties

In stores, you'll find plenty of variations on the okra theme. Varieties include:

  • The Annie Oakley, which is bright green and isn't covered with the typical fuzz, or "spines," that you see on other varieties.
  • The Clemson, a dark-green and angular kind of okra.
  • Chinese okra, an extra-large type whose pods reach up to 13 inches in length.
  • The Emerald, with dark-green, smooth pods.
  • The Lee, which has very straight and bright pods.
  • Purple okra, a rare find (grown in New Guinea) that has sorrel-shaped leaves.

When is Okra in Season?

Okra is in grocery stores all year, though it peaks in the summer. Besides its availability in the fresh produce section, okra can also be bought frozen at any time.

How to Choose Okra

Good fresh okra will have firm, dry pods and be a rich, verdant green. Typically, okra pods are sold "young" — that is, they are picked while they are still small and immature. This ensures that they are tender and tasty. Mature okra is occasionally available too, but it is much tougher and harder to use.

How to Store Okra

Try cooking your okra immediately, if you can. If not, store the pods in a paper bag, and place them in a part of the fridge that isn't too cold. If over-chilled, okra will spoil faster.

How to Prepare and Cook Okra

Okra is a sensitive veggie. Not only is it extra-responsive to cold, but okra can't be cooked in iron, copper or brass pots or pans. These metals interact with a chemical in the pods, turning okra black. To prepare your pods, begin by rinsing them in cold tap water. (Only do this right before preparing.) You can then cook okra pods either whole or sliced. Here's where many people are divided: Compared to whole pods, sliced okra becomes much more gel-like when boiled. Some people find sliced okra too "slimy" for their taste, while others absolutely love it. If you're not sure what your guests will like, try cooking okra whole, since very few people mind a firmer pod. And remember, you aren't limited to boiling okra. You can also steam, sauté or stir-fry it to maintain crunch and freshness.

Key Measurements

Most okra-based recipes will call for one or more cups of this ingredient.

Substitutions

Instead of okra, nopales (i.e. young, peeled prickly pear pads) are a good substitute, as well as asparagus or even eggplant slices.

Okra in Recipes

Here are three soup and gumbo recipes guaranteed to stick to ribs and make hearts melt: Slow Cooker Chicken 'n Rice Gumbo Soup, Seafood Gumbo and Hearty Tuscan Soup.

Related Recipes

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