Okra – Superfood Superstar

Okra bloom with pods ready to be picked

I ended up with some free Okra seeds this spring and thought I would try them, not thinking at all about eating them, but just to enjoy the beauty of the plants. Now they are 6 feet tall and producing tons of okra pods every few days so I am trying to use them in cooking.  I did some research about Okra – it’s nutritional benefits, and how to prepare it, and I think that I found another one of those superfoods, like blueberries!

Beautiful okra flower

According to the blog Healthy, Happy, Life: http://kblog.lunchboxbunch.com/2009/04/okra-nutrition-facts-surprise-its-super.html, they rave about Okra’s benefits:

” Though okra was voted most hated veggie, it can actually be quite tasty and nutritious! So I’m here to convert the haters to lovers!Okra is actually incredibly healthy despite its unappealing reputation. Okra is low in calories. One cup of raw okra only has around 30 calories. And in that low-calorie cup is a whopping 66% RDA of Vitamin K! Okra is also high is calcium, fiber, vitamin C, protein, folate, manganese and magnesium. Why munch not-nutrient-dense celery or iceberg lettuce for a low-calorie veggie when you can munch the much-more-nutrient-dense super food veggie okra!”

Here is the complete nutrition information about Okra which completely blew me away!
OKRA
serving size: 1 cup raw, chopped
(about 6 spears)
calories: 31
fat: 0 g
carbs: 7 g
protein: 2 g
fiber: 3 g
Vitamin K: 66% RDA
Vitamin C: 35% RDA
folate: 22% RDA
thiamin: 13% RDA
manganese: 50% RDA
magnesium: 14% RDA

Phytochemicals:
Okra – beta carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin

Low in calories and an amazing source per calorie of Vitamin K, fiber and Manganese.  Okra is a stellar veggie that you have to learn to love!

One day of picking

Growing

The seeds are large and easy to sow after danger of frost is over, here about May 10, covering with about 1 inch of soil. I thinned the seedlings to stand about 18 inches apart and then forgot about them.  Next thing I knew the plants were 3 feet tall with beautiful leaves that look like marijuana plants!

Large beautiful leaves

The flowers, since they are related to hibiscus, are beautiful also with a soft yellow cast and a reddish center. They bloom for one day only, and then form a pod which should be picked within a few days, before it gets too long and tough. I picked the pods from 1 inch to 4 inches long for eating, and the larger ones for drying for dried flower arrangements. There is also a purplish reddish okra pod.

I harvest the pods every few days

Reading about other people experiences with growing Okra, it sounds like the plants can tower up to 9 or 10 feet tall! I believe it, as mine are going strong and are almost 6 feet high now. Being a Southern plant, Okra thrives in hot weather which we have had plenty of this summer.

Cooking

Cutting up okra, you see the large seeds

I like to slice the pods up crosswise about 1/3 of an inch thick and saute them in olive oil with tomatoes and onions.  Okra pods are a natural thickener and with watery tomatoes, they thicken the tomatoes up nicely. I love tamale pie and here is my take on it using okra:

Tamale Okra Casserole

Tamale pie

Tamale pie (Photo credit: TheLawleys)

1 onion, chopped

a clump of fresh thyme

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 okra pods, sliced

1 large chicken breast, chopped into 1 inch chunks

4 large tomatoes, chopped

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Saute chopped onion,  4 or 5 strands of fresh thyme, 7 or 8 chopped up okra pods, a chopped large red pepper, a couple of cloves of garlic, and a chicken breast chopped up into 1 inch chunks. After these cook up and leave a brown crust on the saute pan, drop in large chopped tomatoes with seasonings of chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook for about 8 minutes until nice and thick. Remove any stems of thyme. Place mixture into a casserole dish and top with Polenta below, and cook for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Pull out of oven and spread 2 cups of shredded cheddar on top and bake an additional 5 minutes.

Top with sour cream and green onions if desired.

Polenta

1 cup of water set to boil in a large heavy saucepan

Whisk together 1 1/2 cup of cold water and 1 1/2 cup of corn meal until smooth. Whisk into the boiling water in saucepan until smooth and thick. Spread on top of casserole.

English: Red okra pods

English: Red okra pods (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like to fry okra in cornmeal like they do in the south. Gumbo is next on my list to try, and I will attempt freezing some. I love to grill and will grill some because everything tastes better grilled!

Plate of okra

Plate of okra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Drying

If the okra pods get too large, you end up with monsters that can be quite tough and stringy. I like to dry these large pods by placing the okra on a cookie sheet lined with a paper towel and place in the sun outdoors for a couple of weeks. The pods dry with prominent ribs and stripes and are wonderful to use in dry pod arrangements.

Dried okra pods

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About thegardendiaries

Claire Jones is a landscape and floral designer and owner of Claire Jones Landscapes, LLC. She designs and helps people to create their own personal outdoor oasis and loves to write about her gardening failures and successes.
This entry was posted in Cooking in the garden, gardening, Herb and Vegetable Gardening and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Okra – Superfood Superstar

  1. WOWOWOWO I THINK YOUR GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I HOPE YOU KEEP BLOGGING I ENJOY READING WHAT YOU HAVE DONE

  2. Monica says:

    I have eaten okra all my life and I have never seen how the plant and flowers look like. The flower is actually quite pretty! We call okra “ladies’ fingers” in Singapore and often eat them in curries.

    • When I did the research on okra, I was amazed at how many ways to prepare them. And I never would have thought about using them in Indian cooking!

      • Monica says:

        It’s a very “Indian” vegetable. When I peer at the shopping cart of an Indian family at the cashier counter at the supermarket, you hardly see any leafy vegetable (like those consumed by Chinese families). Instead, you see egg plant, tomato, carrot, french beans and lots of okra!

  3. Pingback: Okra – Superfood Superstar | Fire and Ice Blog

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