Okra is plentiful

The days and weeks are beginning to run together; this past week I was making masks, worked in the gift shop and “baby” sat a couple of my favorite dogs! My sister had doctor appointments in San Antonio, so on Wednesday I kept her puppy, Bella, as they were going to be gone all day, and then I went and picked up Shadow, the dog I keep for friends while they head East for a little gambling. Shadow is older now, and he had absolutely no patience with Bella and her wanting him to play with her. He would just look at her, lay his head on his paws and shut his eyes. Also, he never comes and climbs on my lap, but I caught a little streak of jealousy, as he came where I was and got on my lap for cuddles. It was totally hilarious to watch. Later today my daughter and her husband will be here with their dog, but I have no worries about these two getting along, as they’ve been here at the same time before. (Sunday noon: He wants to sit on my lap with this dog here also! Go figure.)
Recently when I attended a meeting at our country church, one of the ladies who has a garden brought okra to share. I usually just make a batch of gumbo, or fry it, but I tried a new recipe that a friend had shared on Face book that involved slicing the okra lengthwise, drizzling it with olive oil, seasoning it, and then roasting in the oven, and it’s delicious!
Now, let’s talk a little bit about okra. It seems to me this is a vegetable that is either well liked or hated because of the ‘slimy’ factor. There have been several face book posts about okra recently, some of them touting the health benefits of eating it.
According to recent studies, a new benefit of eating this vegetable is being considered. It has been suggested that it may help manage blood sugar in type 1 and 2 and gestational diabetes. Okra, “Abelmoschus Esculentus is cultivated throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions of the world. It is among the most heat and drought tolerant vegetable species and will tolerate even heavy clay soil; however, frost can damage it.
It belongs to the mallow family and is related to crops such as cotton, cocoa and hibiscus and is a perennial plant. It is generally thought to have originated in the Ethiopian Highlands, although the actual time of domestication occurred is not positively known. A food scholar, Jessica Harris asserts that okra is “the one vegetable absolutely emblematic of the African presence in the New World.” The story of okra’s journey to the New World is that slaves brought the seeds with them. However, it is felt that being kidnapped and sold into slavery that it is very unlikely that this happened.
The name “okra” is most commonly used in the United States, the United Kingdom and the Philipines. A variant of the pronunciation is “okro” in Carribean English, in Nigeria. It is also known as “Lady Fingers” in the Bantu language, and has been called gumbo, ochro, bamie and also several other names. It is a popular vegetable in a large number of places and they seem to each have their own name for it. In the United States, Louisiana, it has been used for centuries as a thickening agent and also, for their iconic food: gumbo! In fact using the term “okra gumbo” is sort of redundant, as the word “gumbo” actually means okra!
Okra is mostly misunderstood by people, due to its slimy consistency when stewed, and the best way to avoid this is by the use of a little vinegar added to the dish you’re preparing, I had never heard of this until Mrs. Van Damme told me about it. Over the years, I have found that when it’s fried, or pickled, it is not slimy. My preference for frying is very small okra fried whole, however, that is not always possible, because most gardeners feel that bigger is better! It isn’t, because when okra gets bigger, it gets “woody” or “pithy” and is hard to cut, chew or eat.
The vegetable is a source of potassium, vitamins B and C, folic acid and calcium. It is very low in calories and has negligible fat. Raw okra is 90% water, 2% protein and 7% carbohydrates. For more information, type “okra” into your search engine and check out all the information. I could not access their recipes, so the ones below are from my own files.
This vegetable can be eaten raw, and it can be cooked many, many different ways, probably with gumbo or fried being the most popular. My family and I like pickled okra and some of us would can it each year to enjoy. My favorite way to enjoy it is fried and when I get chicken at our local fried chicken vendor, I always ask for okra instead of fried potatoes.
Okra Gumbo
1 to 1½ pounds fresh okra
5 slices thin sliced bacon (2 or 3 slices if you buy thick sliced)
3/4 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green bell pepper
1 can (16-oz size) tomatoes (it’s best to use whole tomatoes and break them up as the gumbo cooks)
1 to 2 ears fresh corn *
1 tablespoon vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash okra, cut off stem ends and then cut into ½ to ¾ -inch slices. Set aside. Clean the corn and slice from the cob, set aside. Slice the bacon crosswise into small pieces and fry until crispy, remove bacon from pan and pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the drippings, stir the cut okra into the drippings and cook and stir until it changes color. Add the onions and peppers and cook and stir another 5 minutes; then add the corn and tomatoes and cook until most of the liquid is gone. *You can use about 1 cup frozen corn if you prefer.
Also, you may add cooked sliced sausage or cleaned and deveined shrimp. If using the shrimp, add them the last 4 or 5 minutes of cooking, as they will cook quickly. Okra gumbo is another of those dishes that probably has as many variations as there cooks to make it, and yes, I have added different types of meat to it, including sausage and shrimp! (And, if you check online, you can probably find a true Cajun Gumbo recipe).
A cousin had a post on Facebook on Friday about ‘baking’ okra. The photo she posted looked delicious, and, since I had fresh okra from my friend, I decided to try it.
This is really pretty simple and you just use the amount you want for however many you’re serving. I used 12 okra, because it was a trial and just for a snack, they were good enough that I ate all 24 pieces in about 15 minutes.
Olive oil
Seasoning as desired
Preheat oven to 425º, line a baking sheet with foil and set aside. Place the okra pods (best size is about 3 to 3½-inches), split lengthwise and place on lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning and bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. (Mine were cooked in about 13 or so minutes). The seasoning I used was Uncle Chris’, but you could use just plain salt and pepper, fajita seasoning, seasoned salt or whatever your preference is.