Irresistible okra?

Published: Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 3:27 p.m.

Looking through seed catalogs for something new for your garden and your kitchen? How about a beautiful flowering plant with edible pods — sounds wonderful doesn't it? It is. It's okra!

Known throughout the rest of the world as lady's fingers or gumbo, okra's origins are thought to be either in Asia or Africa. A member of the mallow family and cousin to the hibiscus as well as cotton and cacao, okra grows well in tropical and warm climates.

North Americans, especially Southerners, can trace our okra recipes back to African slaves. Found all over the South, okra was used for thickening in gumbo, stewed or fried as a vegetable side dish. The seeds were roasted and brewed as a coffee substitute.

Although it has one very famous trait — “slime” — the liquid that is famous for thickening gumbo broth is full of fiber and will cook away when stewed for long periods. I bypassed the stewpot to create Oven-Roasted Gumbo. Since the okra cooks up crisp and tender in dry heat, there's no slime! Dry heat also can be created on the stovetop. The Pan-Roasted Okra Pods recipe is a simple way to try a “drier” okra.

I grew up eating okra, since both my mom's Southern family and my dad's Lebanese and Syrian family regularly ate it. As I got older, okra and tomatoes out of a can were often a side-dish for dinner. When I moved to Gainesville, I was introduced to the easiest okra recipe ever created, Steamed Okra. It may seem too basic, but properly cooked, fresh-from-the-garden, tiny pods of okra can be delectable.

For okra photos, recipes and more, view this article in our online magazine viewer.

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