Okra (Lady’s Finger)

What is okra

Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), often referred to as ladies’ finger, is a popular green pod vegetable cultivated throughout the tropical, subtropical and temperate climates around the world. The plants are indigenous to the banks of Nile River.

Okra

Okra

Other names

In Spanish – Quingombó

In French – Gombo

In Portuguese – Quiabo

In Swahili – Bamia

In Chinese – Qiū kuí

In Arabic – Bamia

In Hindi – Bhindi

Description

Size: The narrow seed pods can grow up to 10 inches in length, but the ones used for edible purposes are usually no more than 4-6 inches long.

Color and appearance: Covered in tiny hairs, they have five or more distinct ridges running down the length. The solid dark green color of the raw seed pods turns even darker as they mature. The red okra variety is of a vibrant burgundy shade but turns green when cooked.

Taste and flavor: The tender raw pods have a pleasant sweet flavor, along with an interesting smooth yet somewhat crunchy texture. Okra releases a thick, viscous juice when cooked, but is quite dry when the raw pods are cut.

The smaller, younger pods offer the best taste and texture while the ripe or matured ones are often unpleasantly chewy and stringy.

Okra Photos

Okra Photos

Okra Pictures

Okra Pictures

Nutrition facts

Here is the nutritional information for 100 gm of raw lady’s fingers:

Nutrients Amount (RDA)
Water 89.58 gm
Energy 33 kcal
Protein 1.93 gm
Carbohydrate 75 gm
-Total dietary fibers 3.2 gm
-Total sugars 1.48 gm
Total fat 0.19 gm
-Saturated fatty acids 0.026 gm
-Monounsaturated fatty acids 0.017 gm
-Polyunsaturated fatty acids 0.027 gm
-Cholesterol 0 mg
Minerals  
Phosphorus 61 mg
Calcium 82 mg (8%)
Potassium 299 mg (6%)
Iron 0.62 mg (5%)
Sodium 7 mg
Magnesium 57 mg (16%)
Zinc 0.58 mg (6%)
Vitamins
Vitamin C 23.0 mg (28%)
Vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.200 mg (17%)
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.060 mg (5%)
Vitamin B3 (niacin) 1.000 mg (7%)
Vitamin B6 0.215 mg
Vitamin B9 (folate, DFE) 60 µg
Vitamin B12 0.00 µg
Vitamin A equiv. 36 µg (5%)
Vitamin E 0.27 mg (2%)
Vitamin D 0.0 µg
Vitamin K 31.3 µg (30%)

Source: usda.gov

Health benefits: Is okra good for you

For diabetes

It has a long history of being used for diabetes management, with a recent study showing that the viscous dietary fibers help to reduce glucose absorption in the body, thus assisting in keeping the blood sugar levels in check. Another study claimed the okra seeds to be more effective in managing diabetes than the green skin. However, further research is necessary to confirm these findings.

Its low glycemic index (around 20) may also make it beneficial for diabetic patients.

Source of soluble fibers

Its rich soluble fiber content can help in reducing the LDL (bad cholesterol) levels by making the body use up more cholesterol from the bloodstream for bile production to complete the digestion process.

Apart from helping in digestion, the mucilaginous fiber may be beneficial for regular bowel movements, preventing and easing gas, bloating and constipation.

The fiber is also good for the propagation of probiotics, or the friendly bacteria in the intestines, essential for a healthy immune system.

Good source of Vitamin C

It provides around 30% of the RDA of vitamin C. The nutrient, being a natural antioxidant, is useful for reducing the chances of cough and cold as well as for repairing damaged skin tissues, keeping your skin healthy and radiant

Okra Images

Okra Images

Okra Plant

Okra Plant

Good source of protein

The protein and oil contents of the okra seeds make them one of the finest sources of vegetable protein. It is rich in different amino acids like tryptophan, as well as other sulfur amino acids including cystine.

For weight loss

Being low in calorie (just over 30 cal in every 100 gm), and containing negligible amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol, it is often included in various weight loss diets, making it useful for obesity management. Its high fiber content also makes it a useful appetite suppressant.

Rich in antioxidants

The xanthin and lutein beta carotenes present in lady’s fingers may be useful for restraining the growth of certain cancer cells.

The antioxidants are also good for the eyes, lowering the risks of night blindness and cataract.

For prevention of stomach ulcers

The glycosylated compounds present in okra has been proved to restrain the growth of Heliobacter pylori, the bacteria responsible for ulcers in the stomach lining.

During pregnancy

Okra is rich in folic acid or vitamin B9, with 100 gm of it providing 60 microgram of the nutrient, making it highly beneficial for pregnant women. Folic acid is essential for proper development of the neural tube in the fetus during the initial stage of pregnancy. So, eating the green vegetable can help to lower the chances of various neural tube defects in the baby.

Okra Flower Pictures

Okra Flower Pictures

Okra Flower

Okra Flower

Uses

Edible uses

  • The gelatinous substance released while cooking sliced okra makes it useful for thickening soups and stews.
  • This slippery fluid is not produced if they are cooked whole; so whole pods can be added to vegetable dishes and casseroles.
  • It is one of the most popular green vegetables used in Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, Cajun, Creole and Caribbean cuisines.
  • Cornmeal coated, deep fried seed pods are considered a delicacy in the Deep South states of America.
  • In India and Pakistan, chopped okra is used in spicy stir-fried and gravy preparations such as sambar and bhindi ghosht.
  • Pickled pods are eaten as a snack as well as added to salads and cocktails.
  • It is used in Malaysian yong tau foo dishes, where the vegetable is usually stuffed with surimi (fish paste) before it is boiled with tofu and vegetables and served with soup and noodles.
  • Thinly sliced okra are used as a principal ingredient in Gumbo, the official cuisine of Louisiana.
  • The edible leaves of the okra plant can be consumed in the similar way as dandelion and beet greens, in vegetable dishes and green salads.
  • Roasted, ground okra seeds are used as a substitute for coffee, to make a caffeine-free beverage.

Medicinal uses

  • Juice made from the pods is used for treating diarrhea or an upset stomach, abdominal pain, and fever, as well as sore throat and cough.
  • Its leaves and roots are applied as poultice on wounds for accelerating the healing process.
  • It is sometimes recommended to gout patients due to its low purine content.
  • Okra water, prepared by soaking okra slices in water overnight, is also considered a useful natural remedy for diabetes.

Other uses

  • Horizontally sliced vegetables are boiled in water to make a slimy decoction, which is then cooled before adding a few drops of lemon juice and using the mixture as a hair rinse to make the hair more bouncy and shiny.
  • The seeds are used for extracting edible oil. Some studies have found okra oil to be suitable for use as a biofuel.
  • Okra fiber is used in rope and paper production.
Okra (Lady’s Finger)

Okra (Lady’s Finger)

How to make

There are plenty of ways for preparing the tender seed pods, from deep-frying and stir-frying to braising and boiling. However, unless you prefer your food slimy, it is essential to follow a few steps for cutting the okra to minimize the release of the mucousy substance and keep it as dry as possible.

Cutting the okra

Choose the small, fresh and tender ones as they take less time to cook. Rub the vegetables with a cloth to remove the fuzzy hairs, before rinsing them quickly in running water. Then let them dry completely  before cutting to keep them from getting too slimy. You may even consider washing them a day before cutting so they can air-dry.

When cutting, make sure to remove the conical tops before cutting the pods into 1/2-1/4 inch pieces. You can also cut it lengthwise into long slices, especially if you are planning to roast or bake them.

Cooking them whole after washing and drying is another way to keep the viscous juice from producing.

How to cook

How to fry

Soak the okra pieces in some egg for around 10 minutes before deep frying them in hot oil after coating the pieces in a salted corn meal batter.

Fried Okra

Fried Okra

Roasting in the oven

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F
  • Arrange the sliced lady’s fingers on a cookie sheet or a foil lined tray in a single layer
  • Sprinkle some salt and pepper and pour a few spoonful of olive oil
  • Now roast the pieces in the oven for 15-20 minutes

Steaming

  • Take the okra slices in a steamer basket and place the basket over a large container with 1-2 inches of water. Make sure the water is not touching any part of the steamer basket.
  • Cover the basket and steam it over the boiling water for about 10-15 minutes.
  • Check with a fork if the vegetables are tender enough
  • Sprinkle with some salt and pepper once it is done

Avoiding overcooking is important as too much heat makes the vegetable oozier. Adding acidic ingredients, such as a few pieces of tomato, some vinegar or lemon juice to the okra while cooking can also help with the purpose. The second trick is often used by Southern chefs.

Can you eat okra raw

The young seed pods are often eaten raw in salads. Sometimes, the tender pods are sliced and tossed with salt and pepper before consumption. Raw, dehydrated okra, seasoned with salt and pepper is also quite popular as its taste resembles that of the deep fried vegetable. Raw red okra is often sliced and added to salads to add color and texture.

Recipes

  • Bhindi masala
  • Okra chips
  • Pickled okra
  • Grilled Okra with Steamed rice
  • Okra fritters
  • Corn tomato okra succotash
  • Vegan southern okra soup
  • Shrimp and Okra Gumbo
  • Stuffed okra curry
  • Turkish chicken and okra casserole
Okra Curry

Okra Curry

Okra Pickle

Okra Pickle

Okra Soup

Okra Soup

Substitutes

It might be a little difficult to find a proper substitute for okra, as no other green vegetable produces the gel-like substance that make the former useful for thickening soups. For taste, you can use other vegetables like green beans or eggplant in its place. But in any case, you may have to use a thickener like flour or cornstarch to achieve the same consistency.

Can okra be bad for you

There are no serious side effects when eaten as part of a regular diet. However, overconsumption may lead to some acidity and digestion problems. In case of an allergic reaction, contact your health care provider.

People suffering from or with a history of kidney stones should refrain from it as its rich-oxalate content.

Where to buy

Fresh lady’s fingers are available at any local grocery stores and farmer’s markets. Some supermarkets also sell the seed pods in frozen, canned and dehydrated forms. You can also buy them fresh or frozen from online stores.

Storing

Store the fresh vegetables in a clean and dry plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days. Freezing and dehydrating are two ways of storing them for a longer time.

How to freeze

  • Wash the okra thoroughly in running water
  • Place them in boiling water for a couple of minutes (blanch) before taking them out and chilling immediately in ice cold water
  • Drain any excess water and put them in an airtight container or plastic bag before storing in the freezer

It has a shelf life of up to 8 to 12 months in the frozen form.

Dehydrating okra

  • Wash the pods properly and slice them into small pieces. You can also leave them whole if you prefer.
  • Place them on the dehydrating shelf in a single layer.
  • Dehydrate for around 24 hours or until completely dry and crisp.
  • Once they have been dehydrated, place them in a freezer bag and keep in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours to kill any germ that may have survived the heat.
  • Once done, store them in air tight glass or plastic containers in a cool and dry place
Okra Plant Pictures

Okra Plant Pictures

Okra Seeds

Okra Seeds

Interesting facts

  • Although eaten as a vegetable, lady’s finger is technically a fruit.
  • It was first discovered in Ethiopia over 3,500 years ago with a long history of being used by the Egyptians.
  • Legendary beauties Yang Guifei and Cleopatra are believed to have loved eating okra because of its effectiveness in maintaining healthy skin.
  • Experiments show the vegetable to have potential for being used as blood plasma replacements.
  • The seeds were first used as a coffee substitute during World War II.

References:

http://www.chatelaine.com/health/diet/health-benefits-of-okra-and-a-curry-recipe-to-heal-inflammation/

http://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes/okra

http://www.diabetes.co.uk/natural-therapies/okra.html

http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2497/2

 

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