Okra used to be one of those largely regional vegetables that you either grew up eating or probably never tried at all. In the South, it is a staple of Creole cooking and is one of the main ingredients in traditional gumbo. But as the plant's popularity in recipes has increased, so have the creative ways to prepare it.
The vegetable was originally brought to the United States from Africa, either by the West African slaves or by the French who colonized Louisiana. No one is entirely sure.
Okra is a nutritional bargain; it's a good source of vitamin C, folacin, some B vitamins, magnesium, potassium and calcium. It is also very high in dietary fiber (more than 5 grams in 3 1/2 ounces) -- and all this for only 38 calories in that same serving. Okra contains a natural thickening agent that oozes out in the cooking process and makes it great for soups and stews, but can be a bit of a turn-off if you're eating the vegetable by itself. However, if you wipe the okra (instead of washing it) and cook it quickly, it will not get too gummy.
In the market, look for small pods (3 inches or less) because they will be younger and more tender; once okra matures, it becomes fibrous and tough. The pods should be clean and fresh and snap crisply when they are broken in half. Stay away from any that are hard or discolored. If the pods look fuzzy, wipe them off with a damp towel.
If you plan to cook them whole, take a tiny slice from the end (do not pierce the internal capsule) in order to keep down the gumminess. Then cook them quickly until just tender. The same is true of adding okra to a cooked dish where you want the okra to stay crisp. Don't add it until the last 10 minutes of cooking time. If you are adding okra to a sauce or serving it in a soup or stew, just cut it into slices, and let the thickened goo do its work. Okra is easy to cook. You can blanch whole pods in boiling water before using them in salads or stir-fries. If you want to serve it cold, cool it in a bowl of ice water. To boil okra, put the pods into about an inch of boiling water for five to 10 minutes, or just until it is tender (but crisp). If possible, don't cook the okra in a cast-iron or aluminum pot. The okra will turn dark, and while this is harmless, it isn't very appetizing. Microwaving actually isn't much of a time-saver. A pound will take about six minutes in a covered microwave dish. Be sure to rinse the okra, but don't dry it. You don't need to add any extra water. Steaming also works and takes only three to six minutes. This will keep the pods crisp. One of the most popular ways to serve okra is to saut it with some onions, garlic and tomatoes. Just use a tiny amount of oil and cook for three to five minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Okra is said to taste like a cross between eggplant and asparagus. Anything you would do to either one of those vegetables you can do with okra. Try it as a side dish by serving steamed or boiled okra with a drizzling of lemon juice and a shake of black pepper. Or make a rice pilaf by combining stewed okra and tomatoes with rice that has been partially cooked, then simmer the whole mixture until the rice is fully cooked. You can then add any kind of seafood (like shrimp or crabmeat), and spicy sausage. You can also add Indian curries or Mexican chiles and salsa. Or splash some vinaigrette on your okra for a salad. Here's a great Turkey Gumbo recipe from our new cookbook, "Wellness Kitchen." It calls for fresh turkey breast, but you can use leftovers as well. 2 tablespoons flour 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 pound left over turkey cut into 1-inch chunks 1 large onion, finely chopped 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped Half of a 10-ounce package frozen sliced okra (minced) 1 2/3 cups low-fat chicken broth 3/4 teaspoon thyme 1 teaspoon Louisiana-style hot sauce 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 1/2 teaspoon salt In a small skillet, heat the flour over low heat. Cook, stirring frequently until flour is golden brown (about five minutes). Remove from heat, and transfer to a small bowl. In a nonstick Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Cook the onion until golden brown and tender (about 10 minutes). Add bell pepper and cook until soft (about four minutes). Sprinkle toasted flour over the vegetables, and stir until evenly coated. Add the okra and stir until well combined.
Gradually add the broth, stirring constantly until sauce is smooth. Add thyme, hot sauce, black pepper and salt. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened (about 15 minutes). Add the turkey and cook until turkey is heated through (about five-10 minutes). Makes four servings, each of which has 216 calories and is a good source of niacin, selenium, vitamin B-6 and vitamin C. Sheldon Margen, M.D., is a professor of public health at the University of California at Berkeley. Dale A. Ogar is managing editor of the University of California at Berkeley "Wellness Letter." They are the authors of "Wellness Kitchen Cookbook," "The Simply Healthy Lowfat Cookbook," "The Wellness Lowfat Cookbook" and "The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition."
Source: Health & Wellness