Christine Patrick, County Extension EFNEP Agent
If okra is on your plate, you’re probably somewhere below the Mason-Dixon line. You lucky thing. This native of Ethiopia has become identified with Southern cuisine as much as grits and collards. Versatile? You bet! Some people like it breaded and fried. Others like it stewed with tomatoes and served over rice. Everybody likes it in gumbo. It can even be made into pickles.
If you grow your own, you know well that okra is best when the oblong pods are picked small – no more than three or four inches. Big pods are a different story. They are tough. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can cook overgrown okra into tenderness. If you have trouble cutting it with a knife, what makes you think your teeth will do any better? If you don’t grow your own, look at the grocery or farmer’s market for unblemished, crisp, plump pods. Avoid the ones with brown spots or the ones that looked shriveled and limp, they’re past their prime. Okra can be stored in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator for up to three days. As with any fresh vegetable, the quality is best the same day it is picked.
Okra is a healthy part of any eating plan. A half cup of sliced, boiled okra has between 25 and 30 calories. It is also cholesterol free and has only the tiniest trace of naturally occurring fat. Those who like boiled okra are few and far between. It tends to be a little slimy when it’s sliced and boiled. However, if you mix it with tomatoes and stew the mixture, it thickens the dish and goes well as a side to any entrée. You can make a good supper out of tomatoes and okra over rice with a pan of hot cornbread. The taste buds can take only so many pizzas and hamburgers. Then it’s time for real food.
If you’ve got too much okra to eat all at once, try freezing part of the harvest. Blanch the okra pods by boiling them for three minutes. Immediately remove them from the heat, drain the water, and spread them out to cool quickly. Leave them whole or slice crosswise. Put the okra into a freezer bag or rigid container and leave half an inch headspace to allow for expansion. Then seal, label, and freeze.
If you’d like to freeze okra for future frying, the instructions are the same except that after slicing crosswise, then dredge with meal or flour. Spread in a single layer on shallow trays. Place the trays in the freezer just long enough to freeze the slices firmly. Then, package the frozen, breaded slices in a freezer container the same way as described above. When you’re ready for fried okra, simply drop the frozen, breaded slices into hot oil and fry until golden.
If you would like additional information on freezing or canning fruits and vegetables, check out the Clemson University Home and Garden Information Center website at http://hgic.clemson.edu.
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