Blog

August 14th, 2017

Green (or purple) Bites!

by Yael Ben-Chaim

Common in Creole, Southern, and Cajun dishes, this tiny-but-mighty vegetable has ventured to Maryland farmers markets. Some call okra “lady’s fingers” because of its long shape. Okra is also known as “gombo”, originating from the Spanish-Portuguese word for okra “quingombo” which traces to the word “quillobo”; quillobo describes the Eastern region of Africa, where okra is thought to have originated (in Ethiopia). Not surprisingly, okra is also common ingredient in gumbo!

Okra is in the Malvaceae, or the mallow family, along with cotton and different flowers flowers like hibiscus, hollyhocks and lidens. In Maryland, okra is in season in July and August.

Nutritional Facts:

Okra is high in Vitamins C and K. Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid), is a water-soluble vitamin. Unlike animals, humans cannot synthesize or store Vitamin C, so an adequate amount in the daily diet is necessary. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps to prevent free radicals, a substance that damages DNA. Vitamin C also helps the body to make collagen, a protein needed to make and repair skin, cartilage, and blood vessels, making it an important aspect of wound healing and bone and teeth maintenance. Okra contains about 25% of the Daily Recommended Allowance of vitamin C for adults.

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that the body stores in fat tissue and the liver. Vitamin K is essential for blood clot prevention, and regular blood flow throughout the body. Okra contains about 26% of the Daily Recommended Allowance of Vitamin K for men and 34% of the Daily Recommended Allowance of Vitamin K for women.

Selection:

Okra should be bright green, flexible, and firm. The smaller the okra, the more tender it will be. Pick okra 3-4 inches in length. Avoid okra with blemishes and dark spots. 

Storage: 

Okra is very perishable. It should be stored in a brown paper bag or container with extra room for up to two days in the refrigerator.

To extend the short okra season and prevent perishing, try blanching and freezing your okra. Frozen okra can last for about a year. When ready to use, thaw and cook.

Blanching:

  • Wash okra to remove any dirt.
  • Snip off the ends.
  • Boil okra for 3-4 minutes.
  • Place okra in ice bath for 3-4 minutes.
  • Drain and dry okra.
  • Flash freeze okra on baking sheet for an hour.
  • Remove okra from baking sheet and transfer to plastic bag or container.

Pairing and Preparation:

Okra sometimes has a bad rep for being slimy. This slim is often used as a thickening agent in soups and stews. To prevent slime overwhelm in other dishes, avoid washing okra until you a ready to use it. When you select okra, pick smaller ones, as they tend to be less slimy.

Okra has a mild taste, similar to eggplant. Okra compliments corn, onions and garlic. Though its subtle, okra shines best when served simply – for instance sautéed with olive oil and salt.

Recipe:

Creole Okra from All Recipes

  • 2 cups okra, ends trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 (16 ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 table spoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic until limp.
  2. Add the green pepper; cook and stir until tender.
  3. Drain the tomatoes, reserving juice, and pour them into the skillet. Season with thyme, parsley, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes over medium heat.
  4. Add the frozen okra, and pour in enough of the reserved juice from the tomatoes to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover, and cook for 15 minutes, or until okra is tender.

 

About the Author Yael Ben-Chaim

Yael is a food-lover, interested in local food systems and farmers markets. Follow Yael's blog posts on farmer market produce, recipes, and nutrition information. Yael is an AmeriCorps VISTA at the Maryland Farmers Market Association and is developing a seasonal food education program for MDFMA.