The scientific name of Okra is Abelmoschus esculentus, known as lady’s fingers, gumbo or bhindi. This flowering plant offers edible green seed pods. It thrives on warm temperate, tropical and subtropical regions. It is variably pronounced as okro. The pods or fruits are rich in fiber containing seeds that are white and round. It is considered one of the most tolerant to drought and heat among the world’s vegetable species. Severe frost can cause damage to the pods though.
To cultivate, soak the seeds overnight before planting it at 1 to 2 centimeters deep. Soaked seeds germinate around 6 days to 3 weeks. They need ample water. The seed pods become fibrous and woody rapidly so you need to harvest within a week after the fruit has pollinated for it to be edible. You harvest the immature fruits to eat as your vegetable.
Okra is rich in vitamin C, fiber, folic acid and antioxidants. It also provides potassium and calcium. The greenish yellow oil from the okra seeds contains unsaturated fatty acids including linoleic and oleic acid that give out a pleasant odor and taste. Oil from okra crops is also used as biofuel. The seed pods when eaten have a mucilaginous or slimy texture that contains soluble fiber. Some eat it raw, while others boil it briefly. If you find the sliminess undesirable, adding a few drops of lemon or vinegar or tomato juice will help.
Gumbo recipe applies longer cooking time of the thinly-sliced pods. You can cook the leaves, and use it as soup thickener. You can pickle the immature pods. In Mediterranean countries, they use it to make thick stew mixed with meat and vegetables. They stir fry chopped okra pods with pickles and spices and added with gravy like sambar or bhindi ghosht in India and Pakistan. They usually cook it whole in Asian dishes known as bamya. It is also prepared with curry in India.
It is part of yong tau foo, a Malaysian cuisine, stuffed with surimi or fish paste to be boiled with tofu and vegetables and served as soup with noodles.
They use okra in soup in the Caribbeans. They prepare Jambo or okra soup made from okra mucilage in Curacao. It is an ingredient in funchi, a fish meal prepared from boiling water and cornflower. Haitians cook it with maize and rice, and use it as sauce for meat. Cubans prepare quimbombo using okra as a main ingredient for the stew. Japanese serve it with katsuobushi or soy sauce, and cook it as a vegetable tempura.
Signature dishes include the Brazilian chicken with okra called frango com quiabo that is quite popular in Minas Gerais. Gumbo [stew] and fried okra coated with flour or cornmeal. It is part of Trinidad and Tobago’s national dish called callaloo. It is also used in Barbados’ national dish called coucou [turned cornmeal]. Nigerians prepare it as draw soup eaten with cassava or garri. It is used in Vietnamese canh chua. Slices of okra are also added to ratatouille.
You can also eat the okra leaves raw usually in salads. You can roast the seeds to use it as caffeine-free coffee substitute. It has been used in traditional medicine for its diuretic properties. It has low caloric content. It is often recommended for cholesterol management and weight loss management as it contains no saturated fats.
It facilitates smooth peristalsis for digestion of food and is very good for constipation. The pods contain vitamin A and anti-oxidant flavonoids such as lutein, xanthin and beta carotene that are good for the eyes. This is good for diabetics as the disease is known to affect the eyesight. It also helps maintain healthy skin and mucous membranes.
Other places deep fry frozen breaded okra. It is also pickled, canned or frozen for preservation. If you buy okra, choose the young pods that are free from bruises. They should be tender but not soft, and ideally less than 4 inches. You can store it for two to three days in the refrigerator wrapped in paper bag or paper towel. You can freeze it for up to a year after blanching the whole for 2 minutes. You can store cooked okra for three to four days. The rich flavonoid content in natural fruits and vegetables such as found in okra protect the oral cavity and lungs from cancer.
Folic acid is obtained from the fresh pods that is essential for decreasing the risk of neural tube defects and is recommended to be taken during pre-conception and first trimester of pregnancy. It increase body immunity with its vitamin C content. It helps fight cough and colds. It is high in vitamin B complex and vitamin K that is a co-factor in blood clotting mechanism and needed for strengthening of bones. It also contains iron, magnesium and manganese.