Per special request, I was asked to blog about okra. This is actually a learning experience for me since I know very little other than its yummy! So....here is my okra blog! =)
This request came about when I mentioned that I have been craving okra like crazy! Me in my sheltered little southern life, never realized that not everyone in the world knows about okra.
This is what about.com says about okra's origins...
" Okra comes from a large vegetable plant thought to be of African origin, and it was brought to the United States three centuries ago by African slaves. The word, derived from the West African nkruma, was in use by the late 1700s. Grown in tropical and warm temperate climates, it is in the same plant family as hibiscus and cotton."
Okay, that makes sense, why its primarily found in the Southern US. Not only that but it grows best in hot and dry. Too much rain and too mild of temps doesnt do well for okra!
Okra is usually one of the last veggies left in the garden after the heat and grasshoppers take over. Its not uncommon to see it completely leafless with okra still growing. Usually the deer even leave the okra alone. The leaves are kind of spikey. And will make you itch, you must pick the okra wearing long sleeves or suffer! The easiest way to pick it is to cut the mature pods off with a sharp knife. That way you dont have to handle the spikey stems too much. Also, if the leaves get too thick you can cut them too Here is the okra plant while growing. Here in this area, it is one of the last veggie's left in the garden after the heat and, to allow more sun to reach the okra, thus producing more. To "grow" your own seeds, leave some pods on the plant, then at the end of the season cut them off and let them dry. Then break open the pods and harvest the seeds. They look like teeny black balls.
Here is a pretty good picture of okra pods. Depending on the variety they are sometimes larger, but still tender enough to eat. This is roughly the sized used for pickling. You want your pods to be tender enough to slice easily and still be pretty moist (slimey). If you cut into a pod and it is dry, tough, and has big seeds, just toss it out!
Okra can be prepared many ways but the most common are....in gumbo, fried (my favorite), and pickled.
2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green or yellow pepper, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups vegetable broth
2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes
8 ounces eggplant or other vegetables, diced*
1 pound sliced okra, fresh or frozen
1 16-ounce can chickpeas -- (drained)
1 teaspoon salt -- (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper -- (or to taste)
1-3 teaspoons Tabasco
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke flavoring (or chipotle chile powder to taste)
2-3 cups additional broth or water
In a small skillet, toast the flour over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until it is a uniform tan color, about the color of whole wheat flour. (If you use whole wheat flour for this, it will of course be darker.) Be very careful not to burn it. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Spray a large non-stick pot lightly with olive oil, and sauté the onions, pepper, and celery over medium-high heat. When the vegetables begin to get brown, add the garlic and browned flour and stir to combine. Add the vegetable broth and tomatoes, stir, and add all the remaining ingredients. The gumbo should have enough liquid to resemble a chunky soup; if it is too dry, add some more vegetable broth or water. Cook for at least 30 minutes, until the flavors have a chance to mingle. Remove the bay leaves and serve over rice.
My personal favorite. Here you can buy it frozen and breaded ready to fry!
Fry in a deep skillet in about 1/2-inch of hot oil until browned and crisp. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.
2 to 4 servings.
I dont soak mine in ice water, I just wash, slice, roll in meal, and fry.
And pickled okra. I've never personally made this, I just sometimes buy it in the store.
Hmmm...what else can I say about our friend okra.... Its hard to say what it tastes like, its mild. The "slimeyness" as some say goes a way if you fry it well. And it makes good thickener in soups and gumbo. But it never really bothered me too much. The flavor is similar to a squash. Its best right out of the garden with its good friend homegrown sliced tomatoes!