Okra is one of those foods that elicit a strong response: either you love it or hate – there is no in between.
That was the case for Fresh Stop Market shareholder Michael Sabes.
“Both my wife and I grew up never eating okra and not liking the sliminess of it,” he said. “In my parent’s house, it is almost a taboo vegetable to mention.”
On those rare occasions when he did eat it, the okra was deep fried or in vegetarian gumbo. It wasn’t until one of his weekly shares at the Gendler Grapevine @ the J market included okra that he decided to give it another shot.
“When picking up our food share at the last Fresh Stop Market, I was surprised to see okra as one of the 10 items,” Sabes said. “I gladly took my share and wondered what in the world I was going to do with the okra. When I saw Karyn I said, ‘You are going to make me try to cook with okra?’
Sabes said he knew that adding acid such as vinegar would help decrease the sliminess that makes okra so unpopular with many people.
“I went home and did some research on the internet and found a recipe for roasting okra on the stove,” he said. “I was amazed at how much they shrunk down. The okra was fantastic! It was crunchy and there was no sliminess at all. My wife and I truly enjoyed it.”
Sabes enjoyed the okra so much that when the next Fresh Stop Market brought more okra, he was excited to try it in a different recipe.
“I took the okra and sliced it lengthwise and put it in a hot pot,” he said. “I then added sliced mushroom and cooked it dry until a little tender. I added fresh garlic, oregano, salt, pepper and a little sugar and some fresh chopped tomatoes and let it cook for several minutes. It was a fabulous side dish for dinner.”
It’s too early to say if okra will become one of his and his wife’s favorite vegetables, but it’s no longer on the do-not-serve list.
“I am no longer afraid of it and will enjoy making it more often,” he said. “I even hope to roast some when the family comes over for a special dinner.”
The History of Okra
By Stephen Bartlett, creator of the non-profit Sustainable Agriculture of Louisville, which educates, trains, empowers, and accompanies the next generation of farmers in the rebuilding of a just and local food economy in Louisville and its regional foodshed.
Okra, is a subtropical or tropical plant from the botanical family that includes cotton, hibiscus, and cocoa. The okra flower looks identical to the hibiscus flower and is a perennial that grows up to 6 feet tall, but is grown as an annual in temperate climates. The greatest diversity of okra varieties exists in West Africa, but Ethiopians and South Asians also claim okra originates in their regions. Okra came to the New World on slave ships from West Africa, as early as the mid-1600s in Brazil, and in the 1700s in North America. It is nutritious and a hardy plant easy to cultivate in varied conditions. Okra is most famous in the US as the raw ingredient for "gumbo" type sauces.
If you harvest the pods young and tender, there is less "goo" in them. Favorite recipes for okra dishes include frying in a corn meal breading, or stewed with tomatoes and hot peppers. Young pods are delicious to eat raw in the field. Okra dishes in the US have a strong association as a kind of African or "soul" food. Less widely known in mainstream culture in the US are the many recipes from South Asia based on okra.