Foodstuff: Okra

Okra has appeared a number of times in our local store, Arctic Ventures, but always, it seems, just before I have been about to go out of town on a Court circuit. Although the ones you see in the package above weren’t as fresh as they might be, I had a bit of time to do some experimentation and grabbed some…

Most North Americans will probably associate Okra with the cooking of the American Deep South, especially Louisiana and the other gulf states. It originates from Africa, however, and is now very widely used in Indian cuisine. The Hindi name for the vegetable (the seed-pod of a flowering plant) is ‘bhindi’ but in many of my Indian cookery books it is referred to by the alternate English name of ‘lady’s fingers’.

The inside of the pod contains a soft whitish pulp and numerous tiny seed rather like those of capsicums. The first thing one notices on cutting the pods open is that they exude a very slick, rather sticky substance and this becomes quite thick and mucilaginous, when you chew the raw flesh. The taste is quite mild on the whole, and the closest thing I can compare it with is French string beans. They are a bit bland, and not all that exciting, but they are still quite pleasant and should be enjoyable to all but the most die-hard green vegetable haters.

In the southern Unites States, they are often battered and then deep-fried, and this practice seems to have caught on in Japan where they frequently figure in Tempura preparations. In Louisiana, they are usually included in the stews known as ‘gumbos’ and, indeed, some people know the vegetable by that name as well.

On the same day I bought this package, I included a dozen or so pods in a Jambalaya (see yesterday’s post), which is also a popular rice dish in Louisiana’s Cajun cuisine. They didn’t add significantly to the taste of the dish but the texture was interesting and, given the small amount I used, the mucilaginous quality they are reputed to lend food was not apparent. As for the rest of the package, I want to use them in a dish where they won’t get lost amongst the other ingredients and I am thinking that something hot, spicy and Indian is in order…

23 thoughts on “Foodstuff: Okra”

    1. I did something along those lines with the remainder of my okra … I cooked it while my wife was in Prague and then froze some so she could taste it when she came back. I’ll be posting that experiment sometime fairly soon…

      1. No, I bought a sample of different vegetables in Carrefour, and that thing was included (along with red onions, tomato and beans). They should put a warning on it:)

  1. They’re excellent pickled, but I also like them simply sautéed, sometimes with a bit of corn mixed in as a simple side dish. I didn’t like them as a child, but I love them now and was relieved to be able to find them in some of the small Asian stores here in the Netherlands.

  2. This is one veg I can’t seem to like. We had it in copious amounts while living in Mauritius and my husbands secretary would often send home an ocra (Lady fingers as they call them), garlic, tomato, onion, chilli casserole type thingy and our housekeeper would often bring it fried in oil to get my to like it but alas.
    🙂 Mandy

    1. From “the Wife”: I *really* like okra in Gumbo because the mucilaginous quality that John describes above really adds to the thickening of the dish. I really can’t imagine a “proper” gumbo without it! Oh, but the Indian dish he did with it was DELISH – I’m he’ll post it in due course!

    1. I’ve had the odd gumbo but never callaloo. I’d heard of the name before but had to google it. I’d like to try one of the seafood varieties, especially with conch.

  3. Wow! You paid a lot for that okra! Pickled okra rocks and while I enjoy fried often and in just about any Cajun stew, very small tender boiled pods are the best! It makes many people sick to watch another eat it so you end up alone, but if you put some in chicken broth and boil for about an hour – there is nothing better!

  4. Hey, thanks for all the great info! I’ve heard about okra, but never knew much about it. And the pics are great. Maybe I would be so leary to try it now. Thanks again! xo Julia

  5. I love okra! My mom grew up in the south and so my first intro to okra was fried. Gotta say that’s wonderful, but I rarely indulge! I’ll eat okra in any form, and now that there is a large Indian population in California there is a plentiful supply in the farmer’s markets. I’m surprised at how many of my friends just won’t touch it! Boiled with tomatoes is nice, too! Debra

  6. I haven’t tried okra much at all. Probably because I haven’t ordered it in restaurants. It actually doesn’t appear much on menus in restaurants at least in Vancouver and Calgary. I can’t speak for Toronto since I haven’t lived there for the past decade.

    Okra must be expensive enough up in the Arctic!

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