Mention okra and you will get mixed emotions. Some love it, others hate it. Perhaps the most well-known characteristic of okra is its sticky center, which some dislike because when okra is cooked it can become slimy, others love it because it's the thickening agent in gumbo.
You can find fresh okra at the farmers market. It is a good year for it and the growth is prolific this year. Okra is popular in the south and can be hard to find outside the region. It is easy to grow since it holds up well to pests, scarce water and our high heat and humidity.
What should you look for when buying fresh okra? Avoid choosing pods that are very hard because they will be bitter and difficult to eat. Pods that are too soft are overripe and will not taste as good, either. They should be firm, bright green pods under 4 inches long. The pods must be harvested when they are very young. Larger pods may be tough and fibrous. Avoid those that are dull in color, limp or blemished.
After your purchase, refrigerate unwashed, dry okra pods in the vegetable crisper, loosely wrapped in perforated plastic bags. Wet pods will quickly mold and become slimy. Okra has a short shelf life, usually only two or three days. When the ridges and tips of the pod start to turn dark, use it or lose it. Once it starts to darken, okra will quickly deteriorate.
It may surprise you to know that okra is rich in nutrients. One cup of raw okra contains only 33 calories. It is an excellent source of vitamins C and K, both providing 26 percent of the daily value. Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient that contributes to overall immune function. It also plays an important role in maintaining and repairing tissues. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin known for its role in blood clotting, which prevents excessive bleeding. Vitamin K has also been shown to play a positive role in bone health.
Vitamin A is available in moderate amounts in okra. This vitamin helps in the production of white blood cells, which in turn maintain proper immune system functioning. Other functions of vitamin A include maintaining eye health and regular cell growth.
Okra is somewhat unique in that it contains some protein, 2 grams per one cup serving. While that doesn't seem like much, it is unique that protein is found in a vegetable.
The most prevalent mineral in okra is magnesium. Magnesium is a nutrient that the body needs to stay healthy. Magnesium is important for many processes in the body, including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels and blood pressure and making protein, bone and DNA.
If you are new to okra, it can be an intimidating vegetable. It has a reputation of being slightly gooey. Cooking with okra can be quite simple. Okra can also be baked, fried, steamed, pickled, grilled and even boiled.
This recipe for Spicy Grilled Okra is not slimy and is a tasty way to eat okra without heating up the house. Be sure to choose small pods so they aren't tough.
Spicy Grilled Okra
1 pound fresh okra
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup Cajun seasoning
Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat, and lightly oil the grate. Brush the okra with melted butter and then sprinkle with Cajun seasoning. Thread onto skewers or put in a grilling basket or on a grilling tray. Grill the okra until charred, about 2 minutes per side.
For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We're online at [email protected], on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at uaex.edu/Miller.
Carla Due is county extension agent-staff chair with the Miller County Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.