Latin name: Abelmoschus esculentus
Other names: Lady’s finger, gumbo, bhindi (Hindi)
Uses: vegetable, oil

What is okra?

Okra is a plant in the mallow family, with large leaves, flowers that resemble hibiscus, and long, faceted, edible seed pods that are usually green but occasionally deep red. The plant originated in Africa, though its first documented mention dates back to Egypt in 1216 CE. The slave trade brought it to the West, where the Bantu or Mbundu word “ngombo” changed to “gumbo” — first used to describe the vegetable, then the now-famous stew featuring it.

Why is okra healthy?

Okra is rich in calcium, antioxidants, and soluble fiber. It is also a good source of plant-based protein, due to its amino acid-rich seeds. The pectins and gums that make up its fiber profile give it the ability to bind LDL cholesterol and improve digestion — which help to prevent diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even some cancers.

What does okra taste like?

Harvested when unripe, okra has a mild and pleasing taste with a peach-like fuzz on the outside. The vegetable’s mucilaginous quality, which some people love or hate, makes it stand out.

How do I use okra?

Rarely cooked as a standalone vegetable except in India, okra is excellent sautéed, pickled, or fried and has a flavor that blends well with acidic foods such as tomatoes, which also helps counter its sliminess. This quality makes it popular for thickening soups and stews like gumbo and jambalaya.

Sharing tasting notes with eggplant, it can be used as a substitute, and even consumed raw in salads. Young okra leaves can be cooked in the same manner as the leaves of beets or dandelions, while ripe seeds yield an edible oil used in the Mediterranean and Asia. In India, okra is usually cooked as bhindi fry or bhindi masala in vegetarian households, while bhindi gosht is a meat eaters’ favorite.

What does okra pair well with?

Okra likes onions, tomatoes, chiles, curries and other spice blends, and definitely enjoys some acidity in the form of vinegar or lemon juice.

Where does okra grow?

It grows year-round, but as a tropical plant suited for warm climates, it peaks in the summertime. It's commercially grown across the Indian sub-continent, Turkey, Iran, West Africa, Yugoslavia, Burma, Japan, Malaysia, Brazil, Ghana, Ethiopia, Cyprus, and the southern states of America.

How to buy okra:

Look for firm pods that smell fresh. Keep it in the drawer of your fridge for up to a week.

Fun okra fact:

For centuries in India, okra seeds have been toasted and ground for a caffeine-free coffee substitute.