Seedy and slimy are not my usual favourite qualities in friends or food, but I’ve made an exception for Okra. A flowering plant in the mallow family (related to cotton and cocoa), Okra produces beautiful green fruit in long, slender, curved pods. Sometimes referred to as lady fingers, Okra is also known as ‘gumbo’ particularly in the southern United States, where it serves as the signature ingredient for the stew of the same name. While Okra is technically a fruit, it is primarily eaten as a vegetable. Or should I say two vegetables. Cutting into its slightly fuzzy, green skin reveals a cross-section of pale green flesh encircling round, cream-coloured, edible seeds that resemble broad beans in taste and appearance. The flesh, depending on how it’s cooked can be compared to zucchini or eggplant. And that’s not all. Any way you slice it, Okra exudes a clear, slippery, slime. The more you cut, the slimier it becomes, making Okra an ideal thickening agent for soups and of course, gumbo. My favourite way to eat Okra is dipped in egg and breadcrumbs, and then fried to a crispy, golden brown. But Okra can also be eaten raw in salads, marinated in vinaigrette, pickled, canned or in stir-fries. When selecting Okra, choose firm, unblemished pods that are no longer than four inches, as larger pods lack the subtle flavour and delicate tenderness of the young fruit. Okra will keep for several days in the fridge as long as the pods are unwashed and loosely wrapped in paper towels. If the pods become moist, they are likely to leak and become soft and gummy. Okra is low in calories (about 40 per cup) and is a good source of vitamins B6 and C, fibre, calcium, folic acid and the antioxidant lutein, which is reported to promote healthy vision. So keep an eye out for Okra.
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