A relative of cotton, cacao, and hibiscus — okra thrives in tropical, warm, and temperate climates. Which mean is does beautifully in South.
Hailing from Louisiana, SHED co-owner Cindy Daniel grows it on her family’s HomeFarm, where its taste speaks of childhood pleasures.
Okra is commonly braised, grilled, roasted, and — especially in Southern states — fried.
In addition to flourishing as a pickle, it has a flavor that works well when stewed with other summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.
- Okra originated in Africa, but is a staple in cuisines across the globe, from the Middle East to the Southeastern U.S., where its seeds were carried to North America on slave ships over three centuries ago.
- By the 19th century, the use of the plant was widespread in the U.S.
Tidbits and Terminology
- Known in many English-speaking countries as ladies’ fingers, ochro or gumbo, okra is a flowering plant in the mallow family.
- According to culinary historian Jessica Harris, the word “okra” is derived from the word okuru, the name of the plant in the Igbo language of Nigeria.
Cultivation and Harvest
- The vegetable is at its peak in the summer – especially in the months of July and August, tapering off in early fall.
- In his book The Gift of Southern Cooking, Scott Peacock describes his childhood method of harvesting okra: “In the fierce heat, the pods grew rapidly. The small ones that weren’t ready in the morning would be ready by dusk (by the next day they’d be too mature). My sister and I would go into the patch with tube socks over our hands and forearms – to protect us from the plant fuzz that scratched like fiberglass – wielding little jackknives.”
High in Vitamins K and C, as well as fiber.
Look for firm, springy pods, free of bruises and dark spots, and no more than four inches long.
While the stem and the area around it while brown quickly, the brighter and greener the ends are, the fresher those pods are.
Okra picked the same day may have prickly hairs still clinging to it, so handle with care.
Store pods on the counter for immediate use, or keep unwashed in a paper bag in the refrigerator for two to three days.
At a Glance: Cooking Tips
- Pods can be eaten raw or cooked. In Creole and African cooking, its gummy quality is put to good use as a thickener in stews and soups.
- Frying, roasting, grilling, or quick sautéing are all strategies to reduce the gelatinous texture. A classic Southern method is to fry frying sliced okra in a simple cornmeal coating.
Recipe: Grilled Okra With Spiced Yogurt, Peanuts, and Mint
This recipe from Atlanta chef Steven Satterfield is full of layered flavors and textures.
1 cup whole Greek yogurt
1 large garlic clove
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and coarsely smashed
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and coarsely smashed
1 teaspoon pepper flakes
1 pound fresh okra
3 tablespoons olive or peanut oil, plus more for drizzling
½ cup roughly chopped dry-roasted peanuts
⅓ cup torn fresh mint
Submerge several 6-inch wooden skewers in water to soak. Preheat a grill.
Place yogurt in a medium bowl. Use a fine grater to grate garlic and lemon zest over yogurt. Halve lemon and squeeze one half into yogurt. Add cumin, coriander, red pepper flakes and season with salt and more lemon juice, if needed. Stir to combine and refrigerate until ready to use.
Thread a skewer through 4-6 okra pods just below caps. Thread a second skewer through the same pods, about ½ inch from the tapered tips, creating a secure plank of skewered pods. Repeat with remaining skewers and okra, leaving about 1 inch of bare skewer at each end.
Brush both sides of okra with oil and sprinkle with salt. Place okra skewers on hot grill and cook until okra begins to char, about 2 minutes. Flip and grill opposite side until charred, about 2 minutes more. Transfer grilled okra to a platter and discard skewers.
To serve, spread yogurt sauce over a serving platter or individual plates. Drizzle with oil and top with okra. Garnish with peanuts and mint.