Chow Town

September 30, 2013

Okra is a great nutritional vegetable

It’s important to get several servings of vegetables in our diet each day.

Chow Town

The daily dish on Kansas City's food and drink scene

It’s important to get several servings of vegetables in our diet each day.

There are so many vegetables available that it can be hard to pick one. Most people go for the more common vegetables like green beans, broccoli, carrots and potatoes.

But there are so many more options. One popular vegetable in Cajun cooking is okra.

Okra, otherwise known as gumbo or lady’s fingers, is part of the mallow family of flowering plants. The okra plant is known for the edible green fruits that they produce.

Okra is not only used in Cajun cooking, it can be used in every day meals, such as salads, soups and casseroles. Okra health benefits include aspects such as being low in calories (1/2 cup is only 25 calories) and good for the digestive system.

The fiber and mucilage — a thick, gluey substance the plant produces — that is found in okra can help maintain blood sugar levels. These components can also regulate the body’s absorption rate in the small intestine.

Okra also contains healthy bacteria known as probiotics. These probiotics help the natural production of vitamin B complex. Okra has soluble fiber that helps to lower serum cholesterol. When this type of cholesterol is lowered, the risk of heart disease is lowered.

On the other hand, the insoluble fiber found in okra is what keeps the intestinal tract in good shape. This type of fiber helps to decrease the risk of certain cancers, in particular colon caner. It is a good laxative and can help irritable bowel syndrome, can sooth the gastrointestinal track, and can help heal ulcers.

Okra was first cultivated by the Egyptians after it was discovered in the 12th century B.C. in what is now Ethiopia. The vegetable grew throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East.

In these regions, the seeds and pods were both utilized. The pods were eaten cooked and the seeds were toasted and used as a coffee substitute.

There are several varieties of okra. The most common being the green. Clemson Spineless is the most commonly cultivated American okra variety. The variety is grown in approximately 90 percent of commercial okra production.

There are also red varieties and other huge varieties which include Cow Horn that grows to be 8 feet tall, with pods up to 10 inches long.

A variety that I grow came from my neighbor. It must be one of the large varieties. It has huge pods and when I fry it, kind of reminds me of the flavor of morel mushrooms. If you’ve never loved okra, let me guess your hang-up — it’s kinda slimy?

Those bright green pods, that look so distinctive at the market, can easily turn brownish and gooey when they’re cooked. A couple of ways to help with the slime: Stir fry it as in the recipe below or cook them with an acidic dish such as a baked tomato dish.

As you can see, okra health benefits are many. It may have an unusual name, and you may be tempted to pass it by for a more common vegetable, but, give okra a try. It has many benefits and can be added easily to any meal.

Quick Fried Okra

For seasoned cornmeal:

1 cup cornmeal 1/4 cup flour 1/4 cup corn flour 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoons black pepper 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika Okra, cut into 3/4 inch pieces Bacon fat

Mix dry ingredients to make bowl of seasoned cornmeal and flour. Dredge okra in a bowl of seasoned cornmeal and flour.

Then add it to a very hot cast-iron skillet with a think layer of bacon fat. Stir until crispy on all sides, about 7-10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve.

Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.

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