Growing up in the South, I assumed everyone both liked and ate okra. It was only when I moved further north for college that I realized this is decidedly not the case. Okra is a polarizing vegetable, often put in the same category as eggplant and Brussels sprouts.
Okra is known as ‘lady’s fingers’ outside of the US. I’d have a much harder time chomping down on a piece of okra if we called it that! When okra starts showing up at the farmers’ market, I don’t need to look at a calendar to know that August has arrived. Okra pairs well with many of the items you’re probably already buying at the market; next time you’re loading your bags and baskets with tomatoes, greens, and peaches, add some okra to the mix too.
Okra is the immature seedpod of a tropical herb and is closely related to the hibiscus plant. Full of Vitamin C, a large okra pod can contain as many as 50 seeds. At their peak, okra pods vary in length between 3 and 10 inches. It’s best to avoid pods that are longer than 10 inches, as they become tough and fibrous.
Okra was first introduced to the United States via Africa by way of the Caribbean. Sources argue about when it first showed up in American cuisine. Thomas Jefferson planted okra in Monticello’s hillside garden; the vegetable was a crucial ingredient in several dishes. Records indicate that his okra soup was a melting pot of international cuisines.
Okra’s polarizing reputation stems from its slimy texture — the more it is cut, the slimier it becomes. While the slime is off-putting to some, others build entire dishes, such as soups and gumbo, around it. Okra is sweet like an eggplant, its crisp exterior giving way to a delicately sweet middle.
In the Kitchen:
As is usually the case with summer produce, be sure to buy okra as fresh as possible. Choose crisp and firm okra over its limp and dry counterpart. Okra doesn’t store well. If you must store it, keep it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
If you’re in the mood to eat the okra as soon as you get home, steam the pods for 3 minutes.
Okra is a warm season crop, planted after the last frost. Okra seeds germinate between 6 days and three weeks. Harvest occurs after roughly 50-60 days. Farmers know that once the okra flower opens, the pod will be ready for harvest in 3-4 days. This means that okra must be harvested at least every other day during the growing season.
You can find okra at the Greenmarket from mid to late summer into the early Fall.
W. Rogowski Farm
Oak Grove Plantation
More Vendors HERE
Okra Fritters with Shrimp and Peach Salsa
Crispy Okra Salad
Sources: Wikipedia, The Produce Bible, Veggie Harvest, About Gardening, Heirloom Organics