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Vegetable of the Week: Okra
Okra (also known as gumbo), is a tall-growing, warm-season, annual vegetable from the same family as hollyhock, rose of Sharon and hibiscus. The immature pods are used for soups, canning and stews or as a fried or boiled vegetable. The hibiscus like flowers and upright plant (3 to 6 feet or more in height) have ornamental value for backyard gardens.
Selection & Storage
Gumbo is Swahili for okra. The recent upsurge in the popularity of gumbo has also brought renewed attention to okra. Okra was brought to the new world by African slaves during the slave trade.
The pods must be harvested when they are very young. Preferably two inches long although three inch pods can also be salvaged. Harvest daily as the pods go quickly from tender to tough with increased size.
Refrigerate unwashed, dry okra pods in the vegetable crisper, loosely wrapped in perforated plastic bags. Wet pods will quickly mold and become slimy. Okra will keep for only two or three days. When the ridges and tips of the pod start to turn dark, use it or lose it. Once it starts to darken, okra will quickly deteriorate.
Okra is a powerhouse of valuable nutrients. Nearly half of which is soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectins. Soluble fiber helps to lower serum cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. The other half is insoluble fiber which helps to keep the intestinal tract healthy decreasing the risk of some forms of cancer, especially colorectal cancer. Nearly 10% of the recommended levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid are also present in a half cup of cooked okra.
Nutrition Facts (1/2 cup sliced, cooked okra)
- Calories 25
- Dietary Fiber 2 grams
- Protein 1.52 grams
- Carbohydrates 5.76 grams
- Vitamin A 460 IU
- Vitamin C 13.04 mg
- Folic acid 36.5 micrograms
- Calcium 50.4 mg
- Iron 0.4 mg
- Potassium 256.6 mg
- Magnesium 46 mg
Preparation & Serving
Okra exudes a unique mucilaginous juice which is responsible for its thickening power in the famous Louisiana Creole gumbo dish. Aside from gumbo, okra compliments tomatoes, onions and corn, shellfish and fish stock. Okra has a subtle taste, similar to the flavor of eggplant.
Freezing is the best method for long term home storage of okra. Freeze only young, tender okra. Okra must be blanched before freezing, as with all vegetables. Unblanched okra will quickly become tough and suffer huge nutrient, flavor and color loss during freezing. Follow the procedure outlined below for successful home freezing.
To Prepare Okra for Freezing
- Since freezing does not improve the quality of any vegetable, it is important to start with fresh green pods. Avoid pods longer than 2 to 2-1/2 inches long. Okra that is at peak quality for eating is best for freezing.
- In a blanching pot or large pot with tight fitting lid, bring about 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil.
- Meanwhile, wash, and trim of stems of okra pods, leaving caps whole.
Information adapted from http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/okra.cfm
If you would like to print a copy of this recipe, click here
If you would like to print a copy of this recipe, click here.