Slimy, slimy, slimy. That is the only thought that would have popped into my mind if you mentioned okra to me up until just a few years ago. Growing up these were one of those “yuck” veggies…definitely. However, in the same way that I have taken to amapalaya, I now kind of like the texture and blandish flavor of okra in some dishes such as gumbo and pinakbet. Okra (Hibiscus esculentus), otherwise referred to as lady’s fingers (I mean, really, what kind of dame would have hairy, pointy fingers???), Bhindi, or gumbo is from a plant related to cotton. Hmmm, one could in fact describe it’s texture as a wet ball of cotton when cooked. Some reference books such as my Encyclopedia of Foods from The Dole Company suggest that okra originated in the “near east” – Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey) – went on to Africa, the Caribbean, Southern United States and presumably, with the galleons to the Far East. Other reference books, however, suggest okra originated in Africa and point to the origin of the name okra as coming from Africa. At any rate, it is now abundant in tropical areas around the world, with a huge showing in Indian cuisine as well as in Creole/Southern U.S. cooking.

It’s best to choose the young pods of okra as they are tender and less fibrous. If you slice the okra and add it to a dish, the seeds and liquids inside the pods get viscous and okra2well, I would say mucousy. If you cook the pods whole, they do not affect the texture of the dish or gumbo they are in. Okra is an incredibly easy plant to grow and it bears fruit prolifically. As such, it costs very little and is a mainstay of economical and delicious curries and other stewy dishes. Apparently rich in Potassium, Magnesium and Phosphorous, as well as high in Vitamin C, this is a healthy veggie to consume. Personally, I have really only come across it in gumbo, in pinakbet, sometimes in soups such as sinigangs and as tempura. I am curious what other dishes it can be used in and if you have any great ideas, please leave a comment on this post…thanks!


15 Responses

  1. Okra stirfry is good if you cook it right.
    Chop the okra into rings about half a centimetre thick.
    Fry a few chopped onions and green chillies till just transparent and still crisp. Sprinkle some salt. Add the chopped okra stir for a few seconds and then sprinkle a few drops of water. This draws out the sticky mucous …keep stirring till the sticky mucous disappers. Sprinkle some powdered black pepper and enjoy with steamed rice and curry.

  2. Hi Marketman, okra is really good as salad too. Steam it whole and serve in vinaigrette with chopped shallots and bell peppers. Good with grilled or fried pork belly, sort of takes away the “ngilngig” factor :)

  3. Here’s my Bangladeshi-style okra recipe. Just made it last Saturday for some friends and it disappeared in minutes.

    Puree about one cubic inch each of ginger and garlic. Finely chop one small onion. Coarsely chop three small but very ripe peeled tomatoes. Have ready one teaspoon each ground cumin and coriander powder (freshly ground if possible), and a quarter teaspoon of turmeric. Cut up young okra into two-inch lengths.

    Heat up some oil and put in the chopped onion until it starts to brown. Toss in the ginger and garlic paste, stir constantly so it “blends” with the onion and emits a nice smell, rather than browns individually. Until this the point the flame should be a bit low. Turn up the flame to medium, then add the cumin, coriander, and turmeric (and some chili powder if you like it), mixing it in until the whole mixture dries up a bit. Add the tomatoes and some salt and cook until the liquid comes out. Add the okra, a bit of water, simmer until the okra is cooked, then turn up the flame to high if you want a thicker sauce. When it’s done, sprinkle the juice of two kalamansi over it, and it’s done. Adjust the salt if necessary at the end.

    For some reason, this never ends up being slimy. Great on its own with plain rice, also works really well alongside a nice curry.

  4. we put okra in our munggo….and steamed okra and talbos ng kamote are paired with fried fish…..

  5. this is one of my favorite veggies, i boil them and eat them with bagoong and calamansi paired with pritong talong(fried eggplant) and boiled talbos ng kamote(camote tops), yummy..

    mu uncle from the US sends me bottles of baby okra which he just washes and then blanched, placed in jars then he pours hot cane vinegar with mustard seeds, dill seeds and some other spices i forgot, he then allows this to age for a couple of months.. it’s not slimy and is great with fried fish…

    i also love okra stir fried together with some fried tofu which has been cubed then i saute it with onions, garlic and some soy sauce then i add some cornstarch in water to thicken the sauce a bit.. great for viand or pulutan..

  6. I love gumbos or okras in almost all of its preparations like above. The only exception I make is the typical West African gumbo sauce which they really cooked into a very thick mucousy, slimy liquid form called “to” and eaten with a polenta style corn preparation. Even if the sauce tasted good, the idea of dipping the polenta into the slimy sauce and putting it into one’s mouth made my stomach turned and heaved. And this they eat with their hands. Having been brought up into a culturally polite and courteous society, I am running out of excuses to avoid local invitations when “to” is usually served. This vegetable is a basic and important part of their diet.

  7. When I was living in San Antonio, Texas, Church’s Fried Chicken sells Deep Fried Okra rings, now that I’m here in the bay area Church’s don’t have them in their menu, i guess it is a southern thing. They were so good, dipped in catsup and hot sauce, just like french fries.

  8. Deep fried (tempura), steamed and eaten with a calamansi/patis blend (add some thai chillis for the heat), sauteed with pretty much any meat or scrambled egg, chopped coarsely and added to a pilaf, sliced and have it with miso soup. Some vegans eat it raw. Haven’t tried it roasted yet, but that might be interesting too. I like it in a salad with eggplant, green mangoes, tomatoes and bagoong.

    One of my childhood favorite vegetables, it was my consuelo when my mom and I fought over not eating the ampalaya. Heck at least I was eating a vegetable.

  9. MM,

    I learned to fully appreciate okra through my mother-in-law, she’s lebanese, and she thought me how they make okra. If you need the recipe give me a buzz. My mom likes her okra steamed then she would use bagoong balayan with calamansi as her sawsawan. I eventually liked it when I got a bit older. Then she would use the leaves in one of her visayan veggies dishes, I forgot the name though.

  10. sorry but yucky veggies for me are okra, talong and patola. I just can’t get over the slimy effect.

    a must in sinigang and bulanglang. we also put it in ginisang mais. I do not eat it but I have gotten used to putting it in.

    my mom usually steams it together with talbos ng kamote to be dipped in bagoong isda. she also fries it as is and dips it in a soy/vinegar/garlic mixture.

  11. I love this with sinigang, together with gabi, siling haba, and sitaw. Sometimes, I just steam a few and eat it with spicy bagoong. There’s also a Japanese kind, which is a bit sweetish.

  12. I love them steamed dip in a mixture of spicy vinegar and sauteed bagoong with grilled or fried fish – bangus, tilapia and dalag. It is heaven. They are good addition in pinakbet and sinigang the bayabas. I usually cook them whole with the tip of the stem cut off at the roof of the base so slimy and viscous substance will not leech out while cooking them.

  13. MM, legend has it that an African slave hid okra seeds in her hair when she went to America. That was how okra came to the New World and became a staple of Creole cooking. There’s a beautiful cookbook out called From the Banqueting Table: African Cuisine an Epic Journey which truly captures the flavors, myth and majesty of the continent and beyond, as it includes recipes from the African diaspora. Let me know if you want to order and no, I didn’t write it!



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