In Season: Okra
Though a southern favorite, okra used to be a bit foreign to me (a northerner!). After a few sightings at the farmers' market last year, I brought some home to see what I could do with it. Now I can’t wait to get my hand's on this year's crop.
Okra is, believe it or not, a member of the Hibiscus family. Originally from Northern Africa and as far west as India, the veggie made its way to the the Caribbean and North America during the American slave trade.
These days, Okra comes from all over the U.S. (and many personal gardens). Its prime season begins in June and July. Slender and green, okra pods grow to about 3 to 4 inches when mature. Some varieties can grow up to 9 inches, but okra tastes better when it's smaller. These pods have a soft skin and round white seeds inside -- you can eat both the skin and seeds. To me, okra tastes like … well, okra. It’s less sweet than cooked zucchini and has some green bean similarities, too.
One cup of cooked okra has about 40 calories and 4 grams of fiber (about 20% of the daily recommendation). Okra also contains vitamin C, calcium and vitamin B6, which plays a role in protein metabolism and the nervous system.
I like my okra raw, sautéed or fried until crispy. But before you go crazy with the fryer, consider baking it to cut the fat but keep the crunch. Okra with tomatoes is a classic combo -- I like to sauté chopped okra with olive oil, onion, tomatoes, fresh sweet corn and lots of fresh fresh basil. It also works well in soups and stews like Creole gumbo. Emeril Lagasse has a fabulous recipe for seafood gumbo (it's low-fat, too).
Okra's outer skin has a velvety, slightly sticky texture that can get slimy when overcooked. To avoid this, wash pods carefully and soak for 30 minutes in water with a splash of lemon juice (or add some lemon juice during cooking).
Shopping Tip: Choose pods that are slightly firm and bright green, but be careful -- they bruise easily. Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Okra will show up in your supermarket very soon, but frozen, chopped okra is readily available year-round.
Okra recipes to try: