Abelmoschus esculentus also Hibiscus esculentus
Lady's Fingers, gombo, gumbo, quingombo, okro, ochro,
bamia, bamie, quiabo. In Spanish okra is quibombo; the
French word is gombo, bamia or bamya, in India it is
bhindi, and in the eastern Mediterranean and Arab countries
name okra' probably derives from one of the Niger-Congo
group of languages (the name for okra in the Twi language
is nkuruma). The term okra was in use in English by
the late 18th century.
is a member of the Mallow family, related to cotton,
hibiscus and hollyhock. It is a tall (6 ft) annual
tropical herb cultivated for its edible green seed
pod (there is also a red pod variety, which turns
green when cooked). It has heart shaped leaves (one
species is cultivated for its edible leaves), and
large, yellow, hibiscus-like flowers. The seed pods
are 3 to 10 inches long, tapering, usually with ribs
down its length. These tender, unripe seed pods are
used as a vegetable, and have a unique texture and
sweet flavor. The pods, when cut, exude a mucilaginous
juice that is used to thicken stews (gumbo), and have
a flavor somewhat like a cross between asparagus and
probably originated somewhere around Ethiopia, and
was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians by the 12th
century B.C. Its cultivation spread throughout North
Africa and the Middle East. The seed pods were eaten
cooked, and the seeds were toasted and ground, used
as a coffee substitute (and still is).
came to the Caribbean and the US in the 1700s, probably
brought by slaves from West Africa, and was introduced
to Western Europe soon after. In Louisiana, the Créoles
learned from slaves the use of okra (gumbo) to thicken
soups and it is now an essential in Créole
okra is popular in Africa, the Middle East, Greece,
Turkey, India, the Caribbean, South America and the
Southern US It is not a very common vegetable in most
European countries, except for Greece and parts of
to increased interest in American regional foods,
these bright green, tender pods have gained more respect
as a vegetable in the US, aside from its use as a
is a tropical plant which grows best in warm climates.
It is available year-round, with a peak season during
the summer months. The pods grow rapidly, being ready
for harvest in about 60 days of summer weather, when
grown from seed. They must be picked about 4 to 5
days after flowering, when 4 inches or so in length,
before they mature and toughen. Okra comes in varying
shades of green (there is also a new red variety),
and can be smooth or have a ribbed surface.
Handling & Storage:
young, tender but firm pods. They should snap easily
in half. The best varieties are a rich green color.
Avoid pods that are dull and dry looking, blemished
in a paper bag in the warmest part of refrigerator,
as temperatures below 45º can damage okra. It
does not store well, so use within 2 or 3 days at
not wash until ready to use, or it will become slimy.
When preparing, remember that the more it is cut,
the slimier it will become. Aluminum pots will discolor
okra is used to make rope and paper! (Avoid those
old woody pods!).
is excellent sautéed or fried. Very young,
tender pods can be sliced, dipped in egg, breaded
with corn meal and fried (a favorite here in the Southern
US). Sauté with corn kernels, onion and sweet
peppers. Okra can also be steamed, baked, pickled,
boiled or stewed. Because of its similar flavor, it
can be used in place of eggplant in many recipes.
Use it raw in salads. Avoid long cooking times unless
you are making soups, stews or gumbo.
the pods are cut, they exude a mucilaginous (thick
and sticky) juice that is an excellent thickener for
stews and soups, especially Créole Gumbo. The
flavor blends well with acid foods such as tomatoes.
okra is slimy and sticky - it is supposed to be that
way. If you object to this quality, don't eat okra.
You can't get rid of this quality by soaking or overcooking.
Accept it and like it. Or not.
is a good source of vitamin C and A, also B complex
vitamins, iron and calcium. It is low in calories,
a good source of dietary fiber, and is fat-free.
article is from Chef James Ehler of Key West, Florida.
is a webmaster, cook, chef, writer and (like me) a self-confessed
computer nerd. He is the former executive chef of Martha's
Steak & Seafood Restaurant and the former Reach Hotel
(both in Key West), the Hilton Hotel in Fayetteville,
Arkansas, and the New Bern Golf and Country Club, North
is now webmaster and cook at the Blue Heaven Restaurant
in Key West while he works on his Food Encyclopedia
(five years so far). It is well worth paying a visit
to James' food reference website which is a useful resource
well worth Bookmarking - to visit either website just
click on their title:
Food Reference Website
Blue Heaven Restaurant, Key West, Florida
James T. Ehler, 2001
All rights reserved