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Okra

Hibiscus esculentus


Photo courtesy of Horticulture New Zealand

Description

Okra, sometimes known as Lady’s Fingers, is a subtropical plant with pointy, tapering pods that contain a double row of seeds. When it’s cut, sticky goo oozes out of it, making it an excellent thickening agent for curries and stews.

It’s very common in dishes in the American South, such as gumbo, and is used a lot in the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Africa. In India, it’s known as bhindi.

Okra isn’t commonly available in supermarkets, but you can often find it in specialist fruit and vegetable shops.

Okra is high in fibre, vitamins A, C, and K, and folate. It also contains a number of minerals such as calcium and potassium.

Choose okra pods that look crispy and green, avoiding any that are wrinkled, limp, or blemished. Store in the fridge and use as soon as possible.

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History

Okra is thought to have originated in Africa, though some believe it comes from South Asia. It was known to the Egyptians and Moors of the 12th and 13th centuries, and was introduced to the Americas by the 18th century by slave traders from Africa, giving rise to its popularity in the food of the American South.

Uses

Okra is a nutritious way to thicken your sauces and curries, and is an important ingredient in gumbo, a Louisiana seafood stew.

You can steam, boil, or fry the okra pods before adding them to the rest of your ingredients. If you’re cooking okra whole, trim the top but be careful not to open the pod or the liquid inside will spill out. You can take out some of the liquid in a dish that uses sliced okra by soaking the whole pods in water with lemon juice for an hour or so.

Try shallow-frying okra with curry powder or garam masala and sprinkling with lime juice, or adding it to a ratatouille. Unless you’re using it in a stew, try not to cook it for too long.

Facts

As okra is subtropical, most places in New Zealand need a greenhouse to grow it successfully. But if you’re in the Far North, it can be grown outside.

Okra seeds can be roasted and ground to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute.



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