Thought to be native to Africa, these long and delicate vegetables are also affectionately known as ladies’ fingers, and are of the same family as hibiscus, sorrel and cotton. Across the world an extensive list of alternative names are attributed to okra, including gumbo, bhindi and bamia, and theories as to its method of migration to the Western hemisphere are just as numerous.
There are many varieties of okra, the most common being the green varieties we see on our supermarket shelves. This tender pod, which resembles a more robust and chiseled jalapeno pepper, contains small white edible seeds and is relatively easy to grow in the warm climates which embrace it in their cuisines. Widely used in Caribbean, Creole, Cajun and Indian cuisine, its popularity is increasing in new locations such as China, where it was selected as the preferred vegetable of the athletes of the Beijing Olympic Games, possibly due to both its diversity of uses and its nutritional content.
Okra is low in calories, providing 31kcal per 100g raw. The same amount provides 2.8g of protein, 1g of fat and 3g of carbohydrate. The small green pods are a rich source of cholesterol friendly dietary fiber, essential for a healthy digestive system and blood pressure and are also a good source of calcium, with 160mg per 100g raw, and potassium, with 330mg. High amounts of folate, vitamin B6 and the antioxidants carotene and vitamin C are also crammed into these compact vegetables.
How to eat
Small, young pods are typically used as they are more tender than larger, older ones which can be tough and stringy.
Depending on how they are prepared and cooked okra lends itself to a wide array of dishes. When cooked for a long time the pods release a gelatinous substance, which is popularly used to thicken soups and stews.
If pods are cooked quickly instead, they do not become as gelatinous and can be used as a standalone side dish, perfect for those who do not enjoy a slimy texture. Sliced okra often partners callaloo in many Caribbean dishes, or can be quickly fried with some cornmeal for a slightly crunchy addition to a meal.
Allowing for even more crunch, some southern states in the U.S. bread and deep fry their okra. Okra leaves can also be utilized in salads, while the seeds have been ground into a powder and used as a substitute for coffee.The popularity of this vegetable in India has spawned many okra based curries and side dishes. The team at Gateway of India on Canal Point Drive serves a delicious Okra Masala, using mild spices and tomatoes alongside the ladies’ fingers.
- 1 lb Okra
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- ¼ tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp chopped ginger
- ½ tsp chopped garlic
- ¼ tsp turmeric powder
- ¼ tsp red chili powder
- ½ tsp coriander-cumin powder
- 1 tbsp yogurt
- Salt to taste
- Chopped cilantro
Heat oil and add cumin seeds, ginger and garlic. Sauté until the seeds pop.
Add onions and sauté until light brown. Add the turmeric, chili and coriander-cumin powder.
Sauté on medium flame until the oil separates and then add the okra.
Fry well, uncovered.
Add tomato and fresh cilantro and fry well.
Add salt to taste, add yogurt, sauté shortly until a light gravy forms.
Serve with rice or chapatis.