Summertime is okra recipes time. I manage to eat it weekly, and because I live in hot Texas, I can enjoy fresh okra pretty much all year round. For me, there is no burn-out from weekly consumption. With so many ways to cook and enjoy okra, it’s easy not to get bored with it. Okra has so much to offer, yet because of one bad rap, it gets treated like a felon in a down job market. The reality is okra should be treated like the gem that it is, like the mainstay that it has always been in Africa not only for its taste and versatility but also for its key health benefits, of which there are many. I’m making it my mission to make okra great in the minds of all. For when one thinks about true soul food that calls for fresh, clean ingredients, okra is that vegetable. Read the rest to learn about all the virtues of okra, reasons why you should eat more, and the many different ways you can cook it.
Okra In Popular Culture
I’m not alone in my love and devotion to okra. Popular culture is filled with a few examples that demonstrate its present underground status which could grow and develop into something BIG! There is currently an Okra App. It’s not about okra per se, but merely the naming of an App Okra shows much respect due. The app actually tracks all black-owned restaurants in the entire U.S. It’s a great tool for supporting businesses and food-ways dedicated to African-American cuisine. There is also a cool song by Tyler the Creator, titled “Okra” that needs more airplay. It’s in heavy rotation for me but needs to catch on with others. However, my personal favorite “Okra” song is by Olu Dara, the jazz artist and also father of my favorite MC, Nas.
Where Does Okra Come From?
Okra is a longtime staple in present-day Africa and across the African Diaspora. It is widely believed that okra originated in Ethiopia, and was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians by the 12th century B.C. It made its way West and down into central Africa during the Bantu migrations.
Okra came to the Caribbean and the U.S. in the 1700s, via the Trans-Atlantic slave trade – carried by slaves from West Africa. In Louisiana, the slaves taught the Creoles the thickening properties particularly in soups like gumbo and we’re forever grateful. Islam spread the pods to Europe and Asia. Today Okra is popular worldwide, but lessor in Europe and Asia. But throughout the Middle East, India, Turkey, South America and of course the American South you’ll see it everywhere.
How Easy It To Grow Okra?
With the exception of probably Africa, okra doesn’t get the same appreciation and reverence as other vegetable crops as let’s say cabbage, corn, or name your favorite bean. Okra probably makes any list of least favorite vegetable. I know it does here in the States. People miss the boat on okra all because of that sticky, icky slime when in reality okra is what’s golden. It deserves its due in the same way lesser vegetables (IMHO) kale and cauliflower have had their shine.
Okra is easy to grow, grows upright so requires little space, it’s like Teflon when it comes to diseases, delivers a great yield, and is chock full of great nutrients. What okra needs is a George Washington Carver, a scientist who single-handedly put peanuts on the map and made the world think differently in a positive way about its many utilities and great benefits. Maybe, just maybe I can be that guy. I have a million and one recipes, but now I just to find a way to turn okra’s slime into a benefit beyond thickening soups and big ole pots of gumbo. Perhaps the slime can play a role in none food-related products. I don’t know, but it’s worth deeply pondering.
What Are Solutions For Getting Rid Of The Slime?
Interesting enough it’s the sliminess that makes okra a great thickening agent. But, I get it, I get it, you don’t want to hear anything about okra recipes until I can offer up a way to get rid of the slime factor. Let me address the issue head-on, right off the bat. Eazy peezy here are a few things to consider in avoiding the slime factor:
- The smaller the pod, the less slime you’ll get
- Wash and dry okra very thoroughly. Drying is key!
- Generally speaking, cook okra at high heat levels using methods like roasting, searing, frying, or grilling.
- Cook okra in small batches. Overcrowded pans bring temps down which leads to steam which leads to slime
- Add okra at the very end when you’re ready to eat the dish as this will minimize contact with moisture.
What Are Some Health/Nutritional Benefits of Okra?
One of the main reasons for having okra recipes in your repertoire is its nutritional profile. Okra has a long list of health benefits of which I’ll provide a few of the essential ones. Okra is a major nutritional power. Did you know in a single cup of raw okra there are only about 30 calories and .1 gram of fat but plenty of dietary fiber, protein, and essential nutrients and vitamins? These qualities make okra perfect for tackling issues like diabetes and kidney disease. It doesn’t matter how you like to prepare/eat okra, you can be blessed with its bountiful benefits. Consider the following health issues okra addresses:
Okra Alleviates Asthma
Vegetables and fruit high in Vitamin C are great against asthma. Okra contains 21mg per cup.
Okra Lowers Cholesterol
Okra’s high fiber content promotes good digestive health and good cholesterol levels. Put simply, okra contains no cholesterol and minuscule levels of fat. In other more scientific words, soluble fiber can be dissolved in water, which means that it breaks down in the digestive tract. There, it also binds to cholesterol in other foods so that it can be excreted along with other wastes. Bottom line, cholesterol levels take a big dive according to the Harvard Health Publications.
Okra Helps Manage Diabetes
That soluble fiber I mentioned earlier is the key to okra’s effectiveness against diabetes. The insoluble fiber helps stabilize blood glucose by slowing the rate at which sugar is absorbed from the intestinal tract.
Okra Prevents Kidney Disease
There is a strong link between diabetes and kidney disease. Many cases of kidney disease develop directly from diabetes. So it’s a reason to chance that if you reduce diabetes risks you get the double benefit of lowering chances of developing kidney disease. A 2005 study published in the Jilin Medical Journal found patients who ate okra daily reduced clinical signs of kidney damage more than those who were on a diabetic diet.
Okra wins amongst the health-conscious crowd because it contains potassium, calcium, folic acid, and vitamins B and C. Add in the high fiber, low cholesterol, and low-fat properties, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.
Is Okra Keto?
Okra is definitely keto-friendly. Not only is okra not starchy, but it is also very much low carb. So on top of all the great healthy things I’ve already mentioned, for those of you looking for a vegetable to fit into your low-carb or keto lifestyle, okra is perfect for you.
Is Okra Paleo?
No doubt! Okra is as paleo as paleo gets. Make it a point to add okra into your paleo recipes rotation.
Are There Any Medicinal Okra Recipes?
Some would argue that the health-conscious have gone too far in their love of okra. I suspect our African ancestors have always known about okra’s benefits, but now that okra has grown in popularity here in the U.S. it has developed elixir like elements and is reaching CBD levels in terms of widely held beliefs about its healing powers. “Okra Water” is actually a thing now, and it’s exactly as it reads. It is made by putting okra pods in water and soaking them overnight. The water absorbs all those valuable nutrients discussed earlier. If you decide to try okra water and make your own, be advised to use whole pods vs. slicing the okra. Sliced okra water will be bitter. Also, like beer (American beer that is, vs. the warm stuff preferred in Europe), okra water is best served chilled.
To make okra water – wash 4-5 long pods thoroughly first. Pierce the side of each pod with a knife. Then place them in a mason jar and fill with water.
Let the pods soak overnight, or at least for 8 hours, to allow enough time for the water to extract nutrients from the pods. Before drinking you can squeeze the pods into the water to make sure all the nutritious sap is released.
Eating okra peels is another thing that is becoming more popular. It’s probably the most traditional way from a medicinal standpoint. Those who take this approach simply use a grater, zester, vegetable peeler or sharp knife to shred the okra peel and then afterward you just eat the peel.
Lastly, there are powdered okra seeds which you can buy primarily online and in health food stores, but as it grows in popularity, I’m sure you’ll see it in your neighborhood grocery store. To make, the seeds are simply dried out and then ground down.
How Is Okra Prepared?
Given it’s global culinary status, okra is prepared and eaten in a variety of ways. It’s roasted, grilled, fried, and stewed. It’s eaten as the main ingredient or as a supporting role in a main dish entree. There are also many options for preserving from pickling to canning.
Roasting in the oven at high temps is easy, fast, and delicious, especially if you season them right. Olive oil, salt, pepper, and perhaps a cajun spice blend goes a long way. Try this simple roasted okra recipe.
The great thing about grilled okra is their greens flavor stands out and pairs well with the smokiness from the grilling. The charring is almost like a bonus treat. Like roasting they don’t require much work but net outstanding results. Pair these with flavored mayonnaise. I little take my favorite hot sauce and mix it with the mayo.
Stewed okra is a Southern classic, but Indians have great versions too. Tomatoes make the perfect pairing with stewed okra so most recipes call for them including my version. To take your stewed okra a notch I recommend infusing your cooking oil with your spice selection before adding the okra and tomatoes. This adds complexity to the dish. The other benefit is you don’t have to use bacon to flavor. Please do not take that as an anti-bacon sentiment. I’m good with bacon, but want to make sure my vegan and/or health-conscious crew had great tasting options. Try this stewed okra recipe.
Fresh, summertime okra – who doesn’t like it fried. I prefer a light airy texture for my fried okra recipe and achieve this by using corn starch to perform the most crispy execution of fried okra you can imagine. You’ll want to add this fried okra recipe to your recipe list.
Often-times the best recipes are the simplest and this okra recipe qualifies as such. Blistering okra with tomatoes in a super hot pan/skillet first-off nukes the hell out the slime, but the charring also adds depth and flavor in just a few minutes for a dope and delicious side dish.
Pressure Cooking (Instant Pot) Okra
Instant Pots are perfect for a good okra soup/stew. I’m testing a chicken and lime soup with okra in the kitchen as we speak. Stay tuned…
Pickled okra despite not “technically” being cooked has no slime. As a matter of fact, vinegar a key ingredient in most pickling recipes is an anti-slime agent. I’ve made salads featuring raw okra soaked in vinegar before topping my salad.
Other Okra Recipes
Eating More Okra
Don’t take my word for it. Try some of the okra recipes mentioned in this post. This is a low risk, high reward proposition. Fresh okra is pretty cheap, yet it’s extremely healthy and highly versatile in terms of its fit with different types of recipes. If you try one of the recipes, get on the boys and join the campaign. Help me get okra off the sideline and out of the background.
If you make any one of these okra recipes come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them.
You can also keep up with my food exploits as well as original recipes!