© Denzil Green
Okra is a green vegetable. You eat the pods that the plant produces.
The pods are ribbed and long, anywhere from 5 to 18 cm long (2 to 7 inches) with smooth, but fuzzy skin.
Their flavour is somewhere between eggplant and either green beans or asparagus. When cooked, Okra turns “viscous” or “mucilaginous.” The nicest plain translation of that would be “sticky”; the most straight up might be “slimy.” The more you cook it, the slimier it gets. This allows Okra to act as a natural thickener in dishes. The substance coming out of okra actually is “mucilage.”
It is part of the same family as cotton, mallow and hibiscus.
The Okra plant is an annual one, growing up to 180 cm (6 feet) tall with heart-shaped leaves. It needs a hot growing season to produce the pods which are eaten. It blooms with large, yellow flowers, and pods appear quickly afterwards. They are ready to harvest when they are 3 to 5 days old. Beyond that, they get tough very quickly. In all, the pods are harvested about 60 days after the plant has been started from seed.
Sometimes Okra seeds are used to make cooking oil from.
Varieties include Burgundy, Dark Green Long Pod, Emerald and Perkins Spineless. Okra is very popular in the Southern US.
When buying fresh, choose pods 7.5 to 10 cm (3 to 4 inches) long. Any that are longer than that will be getting on the tough side. The pods should be dry, free of bruises, have a good pale green colour, and be firm enough to easily snap. You can also buy it frozen or canned.
Okra is never eaten raw. It’s not usually served on its own, except when fried up covered in corn meal — this is a very popular side dish. It won’t go sticky when cooked like this.
Wash just before you cook it. If very fuzzy, rub between a tea towel. To cook whole with a minimum of the sticky juice getting out, do just the thinnest trim you can on the stem end. While you might be tempted to cut larger ones up further, there should be no need to slice the small ones at all. When adding to a stew or soup where you want the juice to act as a thickener, cut the okra into small pieces.
Okra can be baked, boiled, grilled, microwaved, steamed and cooked in dishes such as soups, stews and of course, gumbos. It shouldn’t take more than 3 to 5 minutes to cook. Don’t cook in iron, copper or aluminum as those metals may affect the colour of the okra.
Good source of vitamin C and A and folate
10 pods = 100 grams = 3.5 oz
1 pound fresh = 450g = approx 2 cups sliced
3 cups thawed okra, chopped into 1 inch pieces = 1 lb
1 x 10 oz (280g) frozen package = 1 ¼ cups when sliced
1 x 16 oz (475 ml) can = 1 ¾ cups when sliced and drained
1 kg (2 pounds) approx, whole, trimmed okra == approximately 10 cups whole, trimmed okra.
Washing okra before storing it will cause it to go gummy.
Store unwashed in fridge in a plastic bag for up to 3 days.
It can be dried to preserve it, and then used in cooked dishes.
Freezing: Wash, remove stems. Blanch small pods for 3 minutes; larger ones for 4 to 5 minutes. Plunge in cold water, drain, package, and freeze. If keeping them separate is desired, freeze separately on a tray or plate first, then package.
Thawed okra will be very soft and mucilaginous. If you froze it whole, and need to chop it, chop while frozen or still partly-frozen.
Okra is native to Northwest Africa, though some believe it was possibly in Asia or Ethiopia before that. It was being used in Egypt by the 1100s.
One story has Okra being brought to America by slaves from Africa, who smuggled the seeds in their hair. Other stories have it being brought to the Southern US by French colonists in the early 1700s.
It was introduced into Brazil by the 1600s.