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Oklahoma Agriculture in the Classroom



Oklahoma Vegetable of the Month: Okra


Okra is a flowering plant in the mallow family. It is valued for its edible green seed pods. The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of West African, Ethiopian, and South Asian origins. The plant is cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions around the world. It grows well in Oklahoma's hot climate and is a popular vegetable in home gardens and farmers markets.

The Egyptians and Moors of the 12th and 13th centuries used the Arabic word for the plant, bamya, suggesting it had come into Egypt from Arabia, but earlier it was probably taken from Ethiopia to Arabia. One of the earliest accounts is by a Spanish Moor who visited Egypt in 1216 and described the plant under cultivation by the locals who ate the tender, young pods with meal.

From Arabia, the plant spread around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and eastward. By 1658 the plant had been introduced to the Americas by slave ships, when its presence was recorded in Brazil. It was further documented in Suriname in 1686. Okra may have been introduced to southeastern North America from Africa in the early 18th century. By 1748, it was being grown as far north as Philadelphia. Thomas Jefferson noted it was well established in Virginia by 1781. It was commonplace throughout the southern United States by 1800, and the first mention of different cultivars was in 1806.

In some countries okra pods are known as "ladies' fingers."

Okra is high in fiber, vitamin C, and folate content. It is also high in antioxidants and is a good source of calcium and potassium.

Regional Preparations for Okra
  • In Malawi okra is cooked and stirred with baking soda to make it more slimy. It is then commonly eaten with nshima, a dish made from raw maize flour or maize husk flour.
  • In Zimbabwe okra (idelele or derere) is sliced thinly and mixed with onion, tomato, and baking soda and then boiled to form a thick paste.
  • In Egypt, okra (bamia) is either cooked as stew with ground beef, onions and tomato.
  • In Tanzania, okra (bamia) is cut into small pieces and mixed with finely chopped young pumpkin leaves. The mix is boiled with baking soda and table salt until well cooked. The resulting dish is called mlenda.
  • In Brazil Frango com quiabo (chicken with okra) is especially famous in the region of Minas Gerais. It is the main ingredient of caruru, a Bahian food with dende oil.
  • In the Caribbean okra is commonly eaten in soup. In Curaçao the soup is known as jambo which primarily is made out of the okra's mucilage. It is often prepared with fish and funchi, a dish made out of cornmeal and boiling water. In Haiti, it is called "callooloo" and is cooked with rice and maize. It is also used as a sauce for meat. In Cuba, it is called quimbombó, along with a stew using okra as its primary ingredient. In the Dominican Republic okra is known as "molondrón." It is eaten in salad and also cooked with rice. In Trinidad and Tobago okra is one of the main ingredients in the thick soup-like melting-pot dish called callaloo. In Trinidad and Tobago and other West Indian territories such as Barbados it is also used as a main ingredient in the cornmeal-based meal called cou-cou that is similar to polenta
  • In the US, okra is the key ingredient in gumbo, a hearty stew found throughout the Gulf Coast  and in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Deep- or shallow-fried okra coated with cornmeal, flour, etc., is widely eaten in the southern United States. The traditional Southern preparation of okra is sliced, with a light coating of cornmeal and spices, shallow-fried in a skillet.

  • In Japan okra is served with soy sauce as tempura.
  • In Malaysia okra is stuffed with processed fish paste, boiled with a selection of vegetables and tofu, and served in a soup with noodles.
  • In the MIddle East okra is widely used in a thick stew made with vegetables and meat. In  Turkish cuisine, other than the stew, bamya is also made with olive oil as a cold starter dish sprinkled with lemon juice. West Asian cuisine uses young okra pods, usually cooked whole.
  • In the Philippines, okra can be found in traditional dishes like pinakbet, dinengdeng, and sinigang. Because of its mild taste and ubiquity, okra can also be cooked adobo-style or served steamed or boiled in a salad with tomatoes, onion and bagoong.
  • In India, chopped pieces are stir-fried with spices, pickled, salted or added to gravy-based preparations such as bhindi ghosht and sambar. It is also simmered in coconut-based curries or tossed with ground mustard seeds. It is also an ingredient in curries, in which it is used whole after trimming only the excess stalk and keeping the hard conical top, which is discarded at the time of eating. In South India, okra is cut into small circular pieces about 1/4 inch thick and stir-fried in oil with salt and hot pepper powder to make curry.
  • In Vietnam, okra is the important ingredient in the dish canh chua.