Okra, also known as 'lady fingers' is a highly nutritious green edible pod. It belongs to the same family of plants as cotton and the lovely Hibiscus - the state flower of Hawaii. It is low in calories (1 cup of raw okra equals only about 30 calories). And it has a whopping amount of Vitamin K in that same cup. Vitamin K is a co-factor for blood clotting enzymes and is required for strengthening of bones. Other vitamins include A, C and a wide variety of Bs (Thiamin (B1), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic acid (B5), Pyridoxine (B6) and Folate (B9). It has no saturated fats, or cholesterol. It is a rich source of dietary fiber, and minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium. Its pods also contain flavonoid anti-oxidants such as beta carotenes, xanthin and lutein. And the funnest fact of all? My husband won't eat okra because it reminds him of Christmas ornaments this old lady at his church used to make .... !! So they do have multiple uses!! :)
Okra should be harvested when it is still tender and when the pods are crisp and plump. In the US, most okra available in stores is way past that stage and is often 'too' fibrous. The best test of the freshness of Okra is to see if the tip breaks of crisply. If the tip bends but doesn't break - its way past its prime. Interestingly, mature okra pods are used to make rope and paper!! So go for the fresh tender pods :)
Handling Okra: One thing I remember about eating Okra as a child was the anticipation. Even once the pods were home, it would be a while before the food was brought to the table. The pods were washed well in fresh cold tap water. Then, mom would spread them out in a single layer on a kitchen towel overnight. The next morning, she would carefully wipe down each one to get rid of any residual moisture. That in itself is the biggest trick. Interaction with water, or any liquid for that matter, is what makes okra slimy. But this mucilage has been shown to have cholesterol-binding properties. So don't pass it by. Here are a few tips to reduce the sliminess of Okra. (a) Always dry the pods well before slicing. (b) After its been sliced, do not add it to the dish until the very end, and once added, minimize mixing/tossing as much as possible. (c) Sauteing or shallow fry okra cauterizes the cut ends and reduces slime. However, this method uses a LOT of oil. (d) Unless its really necessary, don't cut okra in very small pieces and lastly (e) sour ingredients cut down on the slime. In India, recipes with okra often call for tamarind paste, dried mango powder or lemon juice.