This small green pod ( also known as ladies
fingers) is best known as a key ingredient in the thick piquant
soup called gumbo ( derived from the word gombo, which in West
African dialect means okra). Okra's flavour and texture are unique.
Its taste falls somewhere between that of an aubergine and asparagus,
and, not surprisingly, combines well with other vegetables, particularly
tomatoes, peppers, and sweetcorn. Cooked sliced okra exudes a
sticky juice that is a combination of complex chemical substances,
such as acetylated acidic polysaccharide and galaturonic acid.
This juice will thicken any liquid to which it is added, a characteristic
that helps to explain okra's long standing use in soups and stews.
Not everyone finds this mucilaginous texture pleasing, but cooking
the vegetable quickly will reduce the gumminess, allowing okra
to be enjoyed on its own as an interesting and nutritious side
dish. This unusual vegetable has a lot to offer nutritionally.
It's a good source of vitamin C, folate (folic acid) and other
B vitamins, as well as magnesium, potassium, and manganese. Okra
is high in dietary fibre.
Small, young pods no more than about 3" long, are the most
tender; as the vegetable matures, it becomes fibrous and tough.
Choose pods that are clean and fresh (overmature ones will look
dull and dry), and that snap crisply when broken in half; avoid
okra pods that are hard, brownish, or blackened.
Don't wash okra until just before you cook it; moisture will cause
the pods to become slimy. Store untrimmed, uncut okra in a paper
or plastic bag in the refrigerator for no longer than three or
Wash the okra; if the pods are very fuzzy, rub them in a kitchen
towel or with a vegetable brush to remove some of the "fur."
If you are cooking whole okra pods, trim just
the barest slice from the stem end and tip, without piercing the
internal capsule; prepared this way, the juices won't be released
and the okra won't become gummy. When you are cutting okra into
slices, however, you can trim the stem end more deeply.
In general, when okra is to be served separately
as a vegetable side dish, cook the whole pods rapidly, until al
dente or just tender, to minimis e the thickening juices. The
same principle applies when you are adding okra to any cooked
dish in which you want to retain its crisp, fresh quality: Add
the vegetable during the last 10 minutes of cooking time. On the
other hand, when okra is to be used in a soup, stew, or casserole
that requires long cooking, it should be cut up and allowed to
exude its juices.
Do not cook okra in a cast iron or aluminum
pot, or the vegetable will darken. The discoloration is harmless,
but makes the okra look rather unappetising.