Okra: Why eat the Vegetable formally known as Hibiscus Esculentus?
(A Caribbean and African Delicacy)
By Claudia Foleng-Achunche
This vegetable also known as Okra, Ochro, Okro, Bhindi, Bamia, Bamieh, Gumbo, quimgumbo and even Lady Fingers, is one of our planets most nutritious and mouth-watering vegetables.
Okra traces its origin from what was known as Abyssinia (Ethiopia) spreading right through to the Eastern Mediterranean regions, India, Africa, North America, South America and the Caribbean.
Though long popular South of the Sahara and in the Caribbean, it is only now being recognized and sold in non-continental supermarkets around the UK and in other Western Countries.
Hibiscus Esculentus is a small green pod best used as a thickener of soups. Its flavour and texture are unique. For comparison, its taste falls between that of the eggplant and the asparagus.
It blends well with other vegetables such as tomatoes, chilli peppers, spinach, mushrooms and exudes a sticky juice which when added to any liquid will thicken it.
Okra can also be breaded and fried, in which case the juice exudes less.
This unusual vegetable does not only offer a superb taste, but also is nutritious and medicinal. It is a good source of Vitamin C, Folic Acid, essential B vitamins as well as magnesium, manganese and potassium. Okra is also high in dietary fibre.
The ripe seeds of Okra are sometimes roasted, ground and brewed as a substitute for coffee. A close relative to the Okra plant – Roselle is used as a good source of cloth fibre. In countries such as Turkey and Cyprus, the leaves are used in preparing medicinal remedies to soothe and reduce swellings and inflammations.
In some southern regions the seeds are of more value than the pods because of their ability to yield oil. When the pods are ripe, their seeds yield edible oil somewhat equal to other more expensive oils such as olive or sunflower oils.
This vegetable is marketed processed as well as fresh and frozen. Small young pods no more than 3.5 inches long are the most tender and have the most nutritional content. As the vegetable matures, it becomes tough, dry and dull.
Okra can be served raw, or prepared in the several ways: boiled, sautéed, stewed as a soup, blanched or even microwaved.
Boiling: It can be boiled and served with other green vegetables or on it’s on. Trim ends and cook whole pods till crisp and tender for about 10 minutes.
Blanching: Okra can be blanched by dropping whole pods into a large saucepan of boiling water. If serving cold as a salad, cool in a bowl of ice water before serving.
Microwaving: Rinse but do not dry pod and place in a covered microwavable dish for 7 minutes.
Sautéing: Fry chopped onion and garlic in a small amount of hot vegetable oil. Then add Okra (sliced or blended) seasoning and peppers. Cook for 10-15 minutes.
Finally, Okra is best stored dry, untrimmed, uncut in the refrigerator or in a cool place.
(From Tasty and Exotic Foods)
400g Sliced Okra
200g Egusi (Ground)
1 Small fresh chilli
2 tablespoons of All Purpose Seasoning- Dunn’s River
1 small Onion
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
Salt to Taste
- Heat oil in a saucepan and fry in onion until golden brown.
- Mix egusi with warm water to form a paste and pour into saucepan.
- Add seasoning and salt and stir frequently for 5-7 minutes.
- Blend okra together with fresh chilli in a wet blender, add to saucepan and whisk with a wooden spoon.
- Add 250ml of water and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
- Serve hot with Gari or Rice
Please note that image of Egusi can be found in the book.
All ingredients can be purchased from any African/Caribbean food shop.
Claudia Foleng-Achunche is author of Tasty and Exotic Foods: Tempt Your Taste Buds with These Exotic Foods of the Tropics; Price: £11.50. Buy it here