“Eat your fruits and vegetables.” You’ve likely heard this statement since childhood. Research shows why it is good advice:
- Healthy diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
- Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and other substances that are important for good health.
- Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and are filling.
Tired of the same old fruits and veggies? Add some variety to your diet by trying new fruits and vegetables.
Featured Vegetable: Okra
Okra is 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 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’ll now see okra in African, Middle Eastern, Greek, Turkish, Indian, Caribbean and South American cuisines.
Okra is commonly associated with 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, and is low in calories and it’s fat-free.
Clemson variety is dark green with angular pods.
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.
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 is a rare variety you may see at peak times.
Availability, Selection and Storage
Okra is available year-round, with a peak season during the summer months. It is available either frozen or fresh. When buying fresh okra, make sure that you select dry, firm okra. They should be medium to dark green in color and blemish-free. Fresh okra should be used the same day that it is purchased or stored in a paper bag in the warmest part of the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Severe cold temperatures will speed up okra decay. Do not wash the okra pods until ready to use, or it will become slimy.
When preparing, remember that the more it 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, sautèed 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 turn okra black.
Young vs. 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 to be consumed, the 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.
How do I reduce okra slime?
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 few ways to minimize the slime:
- Trim off the ends and avoid puncturing the okra capsule.
- Do not overcook okra.