Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is a hardy flowering plant cultivated for its edible green seed pods. A popular vegetable in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions throughout the world, it is also known as bhindi (South Asia), bamia (Middle East), and gumbo (Southern US and Caribbean).
Okra is also ideal for cultivation in arid locations, being among the most heat and drought-tolerant vegetable species in the world and tolerating both heavy clay soils and intermittent moisture.
Okra has a high nutritional value. In addition to carbohydrates, dietary fibre and some protein, it also contains antioxidants, vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, E and K, and the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
While most commonly cultivated for its seed pods, all parts of the okra plant are edible. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in a similar fashion to spinach and silverbeet. Okra seeds can be roasted and ground to form a caffeine-free substitute for coffee. Oil pressed from okra seed is green-yellow in colour, has a pleasant taste and aroma, and is high in unsaturated fats such as oleic acid and linoleic acid. The oil content of some varieties can be as high as 40%, although 15% may be more common. Oil yields from okra crops are as high as 794 kg/ha, exceeded only by that of sunflower oil in one trial.
Usually treated as an annual plant, okra is easy to grow from seed sown directly into soil (and plants reputedly do not transplant well) in spring after the last frost. It grows to 2m tall and has attractive hibscus-like flowers. The seed pods should be harvested when immature as they rapidly become fibrous and woody thereafter. Excess quantities of pods can be dried by stringing them on a thread like chillies.
So, okra is easy to grow, easy to cook and highly nutritious! This simple method of cooking okra with tomatoes is common in the Eastern Mediterranean area. There are lots of variations on this recipe, as always go with your own taste and what’s available in your garden on the day.
- olive oil
- 2 large red onions, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 500 ml (2 cups) fresh tomato salsa
- 1 kg fresh young okra pods
Cover the base of a large frying pan with olive oil and place over medium-high heat. Fry the onions until translucent but not brown, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, garlic, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes. Add the okra and continue cooking until tomato sauce has thickened and reduced a little, and the okra are ready to eat.
Any number of additional items could be added according to taste, including chillies, olives, basil and cumin.