Summer Vegetables

By Parul Kharod

Okra/Lady's Fingers/Bhindi/Vendakai

As the season gets warmer, we look forward to more fresh vegetables in the summer. Saturday mornings are spent in trips to Farmers Markets, and we also have plenty of farm stands that sell seasonal produce.

One of the summer vegetables that is enjoyed by kids and adults alike is Okra, also known as Lady's Fingers in many other countries.

History

Okra is an all-growing, warm-season, annual vegetable from the same family as hollyhock, rose of Sharon and hibiscus. Botanists believe okra originated in modern-day Ethiopia. Cultivation spread quickly to North and West Africa, the Middle East and India via established trade routes. It is known to be cultivated by the Egyptians in the 12 century AD, from where travelers brought it north and west to Mediterranean lands, and ultimately to the Balkans, and east to the subcontinent of India. It traveled south into the central lands of Africa and arrived in the United States in the 17th &18th century, with the slave trade from the Gold Coast, and was introduced as nkurumun. The word “okra" is derived from the word okuru, the name of the plant in the Igbo language of Nigeria. Okra brought in by slaves from Angola was called ochinggombo, later shortened to ngombo, and popularized in Louisiana as gumbo.

The term Lady's fingers, as the name suggests, is based on the shape of the pods.

Besides its use as a food, okra is used commercially in many industries. The fiber from the stem of the plant is used to make polymers. The mucilage produced by the okra plant can be used for the removal of turbidity from wastewater. It is also being developed for use in making biodegradable food packaging.

Nutritional Value

Okra is a powerhouse of valuable nutrients. It is a rich source of dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins. It contains protein, carbohydrates, vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid, calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. Nearly 10% of the recommended levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid are present in a half cup of cooked okra.

The slimy texture of okra that may turn some people off is its most important nutritional quality. About half of the fiber in okra is soluble fiber in forms of gums and pectin. Soluble fiber helps to lower serum cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. The other half is insoluble fiber which helps to keep the intestinal tract healthy, thus decreasing the risk of some forms of cancer, especially colorectal cancer.

Culinary versatility

Okra is prepared in Indian cuisine in many different ways. It can be fried, sautéed, stuffed, made into dry sabzi, or with a gravy, or added to raita and kadhi.

In African cuisine, and in US, okra is served fried, made into gumbo, soup, stews and stir fry, and pickled.

Whichever you prefer to eat it, do include this nutritious vegetable in your diet!

Recipes

Louisiana Gumbo (Vegan version)

Ingredients

Roux

¼ cup oil – grapeseed or canola
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Veggies

2 medium bell peppers cored and finely chopped
2 celery stalks diced
1 onion diced
1 cup sliced okra
5 cloves garlic minced
3 cups vegetable stock
1 14-oz. can crushed tomatoes
4 cups cauliflower florets about half of a medium cauliflower head

Spices and seasonings

1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon each dried oregano and dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon Tabasco
1 ½ teaspoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon vegetarian Worcestershire sauce

Instructions

Have all your ingredients ready before starting because the roux doesn't wait! Prep the veggies (keep the cauliflower separated, it goes in after the other veggies) and if you want, mix the spices together, as well as the liquid seasonings (tabasco, liquid smoke, Worcestershire sauce).

Start with the roux. In a large, heavy-bottom pot, heat oil on medium-high heat. When hot, add the flour and whisk until incorporated. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, for about 20 minutes or until the mixture (called a roux) reaches a dark amber color. Make sure the roux doesn't burn. Reduce the heat if it's browning too quickly and starts smelling a bit burnt. Once the roux reaches the perfect color, stir in bell pepper, celery, onion, garlic, and okra. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the veggies are softened, stirring every 15 seconds or so. Stir in stock and crushed tomatoes. Mix until well combined, then stir in cauliflower, spices and seasonings (paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme, bay leaf, salt, pepper, Tabasco, liquid smoke and Worcestershire sauce). Bring to a simmer and then cook for another 15 minutes or so, until the cauliflower is tender. Serve with cooked rice.


Stuffed Bhindi

Ingredients

½ lb small baby okra
4 tbsp oil
1 tsp. methi seeds
1 tsp. mustard seeds
½ tsp. hing/asafetida

For masala

4 tbsp or ¼ cup coarsely ground peanuts
3 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp roasted besan (gram) flour
¼ tsp hing (asafetida)
3 tbsp coriander powder
1 tbsp cumin powder
2 tbsp red chili powder
1 tsp garam masala
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp amchur powder
2 tsp garlic paste
¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
1 tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste

Instructions

Wash the okra and pat dry. Remove the stem and slit them vertically. Prepare the filling by mixing all masala ingredients. Stuff each slit okra with the filling. Heat oil in a wide pan. Add the mustard and methi seeds and hing. Place all the stuffed okra in the pan. Toss gently till coated with oil. Cover and let it cook for about 8-10 minutes. Keep stirring gently from time to time. To make it crisp, let it cook for 5 more minutes without the lid.

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Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at parulkharod@gmail.com