Thursday, February 2, 2012

Okra One-Oh-One

I was shocked to find that my consultation of Stephanie Alexander’s 'Kitchen Garden Companion' shed no light on the topic of okra.

Now this book’s home is a snug corner of the side board behind the dining table, where it can be plucked out at a moment’s notice should we want to know something about the food we are stuffing into our mouths. It’s truly the most gorgeous and detailed book, providing information on the plant, growing and harvesting, preparing and, of course, recipes using that particular vegetable or fruit. It has never failed us so far so I was quite disappointed when it couldn’t help with my quest to know more about this sweet, gooey and absolutely delightful veggie.

However, in this day and age the internet seems to serve as a one-stop shop… which I really think it shouldn’t be. But one may as well take advantage of it while it’s still up and running, right? In saying that though, it probably isn’t a bad idea to not forget how to use books as a reference point– for the time when computer hackers around the globe decide to take down the government or whatever by destroying the World Wide Web with viruses (nasty little acellular beasts they are).

There’s my little conspiracy theorist rant for the day.

So yes: okra, aka gumbo!

Some okra coming on in the garden 
Apparently it’s from the same family (Malvaceae) as the lovely hibiscus, which you can sort of guess from its flowers.

As well as the spineless variety, which is more common here, I’ve been fortunate enough to treat my pallet to some Brazillian okra as well. High in fibre, vitamins (A. B… C! And K), minerals (iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese)  and folate with no cholesterol or saturated fats, I reckon you could call okra the ultimate diet food – low in calories yet has plenty of the good stuff to help you kicking along. Not to mention it’s flipping delicious! According to some research, it also helps control blood sugar levels so is particularly useful for diabetics.  And it’s low GI!

Okra is a summer veggie (duh) whose seeds germinate in warmer soils, after the last frost of the winter has been and gone. They grow alright in any decent soil and weeds can be kept away by cultivating the soil near the plants shallowly…  the fun really starts when the pods reach between 5 to 7.5 centimetres long, while they’re still tender and immature. Using garden scissors or pruning shears, clean cuts to the stem can remove the pods without hurting the rest of the plant, ensuring it goes on producing bucketfuls of the stuff!

I wouldn’t say I’ve experimented too much with okra in cooking, apart from frying them up in the pan with some olive oil and garlic - simple yet delicious. Mum would deep fry them as tempura (ohhh heaven!) when Dad used to grow them at home; he never had too much luck with them though so I think he’s really proud of this year’s harvest down at the community garden. We were lucky enough to be given some special brown and white sesame seeds (surigoma) from Japan so the following recipe is the one our family has been obsessed with this summer.

With fresh organic okra from the garden and raw honey straight from the hive, where could one possibly go wrong?!

Okra with Sesame Dressing


10-12 okra
30ml ground sesame seeds
8ml soy sauce
5ml honey
3ml sesame oil


1. Boil okra for 2-3 minutes, drain and cut each okra into 3-4 pieces.
2. Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl and toss with the okra.
3. Devour (the Asian in me loves it with a bowl of simple white short-grain rice, cooked to perfection in a rice cooker).


Gloopy gooey okra goodness.

- Matilda

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