Botanically speaking, okra is a member of the mallow family. Looking deeper into the Malvaceaes, we learn that it shares family ties with cotton, cocoa, balsa wood, hibiscus and durian fruit. Ancient cultivation of okra can be traced back to East Africa, West Africa, India and Southeast Asia. Its arrival in America is documented as one of Africa’s major crops that were brought to the United States on slave ships. Okra probably landed in the US through the ports of Charleston and New Orleans in the 1700s.
The USDA Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) yields 1,099 accessions, most unnamed.
The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources in New Delhi claims over 4,000 accessions.
Okra comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes: fat and thin pods, long and short pods and all sorts of variations in between. Colors vary from Burgundy, Red River, Louisiana Green Velvet, Emerald, Silver Queen, White Velvet and Jing Orange to Hill Country Red.
Okra prefers a pH of around 6.5 and performs well in soils that are rich with organic matter. Full sun is required. For best results, soak seeds for a few hours up to overnight. Plant okra seed 3” to 4” apart, thinning to 12”. For summer crops sow seeds in April and May. For a fall harvest, plant in late July to early August.
After the first harvest, remove the lower leaves to help speed up production.
When shopping for okra, look for small bright green or red pods with no browning or discoloration, especially at the tips. Okra should be firm to the touch with no signs of limpness. Plan to use within a day or two or it will lose its texture and may even turn moldy.
Okra will produce large flowers about two months after planting. The okra pods will be ready to pick three-to-four days later.
India is the largest producer of okra in the world.
Okra leaves are incredibly nutritious. However, they need to be cooked as you would spinach or collard greens. Young leaves can be fried.
Okra plants are stunning and can be grown for their landscaping aesthetics alone, especially the red-stemmed varieties. We are currently growing both red and green varieties in the edible landscape at Raincatcher’s for this purpose. It’s something we hope to continue in 2020.
Following the program, guests were treated to a corn and okra flavor-filled lunch menu. Enjoy the photos and recipes from this delicious experience hosted by the Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills.
Our final ‘Grow and Graze’ event of 2019…Pumpkins on Parade and Sweet Potatoes for Adornment will be October 22nd.
Sign up will begin on September 24th. Ticket sales for our last event sold out in a few hours so mark your calendars now….
Warm Okra and Red Onion Salad with Pine Nuts
½ cup pine nuts
1 ½ tablespoons coconut oil (divided use)
½ red onion, thinly sliced
¾ pound okra, halved lengthwise
½ teaspoon kosher salt (divided use)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped basil
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
Toast pine nuts: Heat oven to 400˚F. Place the pine nuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes, shaking every 2 minutes. Remove from the oven when golden.
Place ½ tablespoon of coconut oil into a large cast iron or nonstick pan. Add the onion and cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the onions and set aside.
Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet and increase temperature to medium-high. Once the pan is hot, add half of the okra and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Sauté for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove the okra and add to the onions.
Add the second batch of okra to the pan (add a bit more coconut oil if the pan is dry). Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the onions and okra back into the pan. Stir to combine.
Add the Worcestershire and vinegar to the pan. Cook on medium-high until the liquid is reduced by half.
Remove from the heat. Stir in the parsley, basil, mint and toasted pine nuts. Stir well to combine. Salt to taste and serve immediately.
Yield: Makes 6 servings.
Fried Okra with Pickle Aioli
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped dill pickles, plus 2 tablespoons pickle juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 pound okra, halved lengthwise
To make the pickle aioli: In a medium bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, pickles, pickle juice, dill and chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To make the okra: In a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, heat 2 inches of the oil to 350˚F over medium-high heat. Alternatively, heat the oil to 350˚F in a deep fryer following the manufacturer’s directions. Line a large plate with paper towels.
While the oil is heating, whisk together the buttermilk and hot sauce in a large bowl. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, Old Bay and 1 tablespoon salt.
Add the okra to the buttermilk mixture and toss to coat. Transfer to the flour mixture and toss to thoroughly coat.
When the oil is hot, remove the okra from the flour mixture, shaking off any excess, and fry the okra in two batches until golden brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to the prepared plate and season lightly with salt. Repeat with the remaining okra.
Serve hot with the pickle aioli.
Yield: Serves 4
Fresh Okra Muffins
2 cups self-rising cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon hot sauce
2 cups thinly sliced fresh okra (about ½ pound)
¼ cup chopped onion
Combine first 3 ingredients in a medium bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Combine milk and next 4 ingredients; add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Fold in okra and onion.
Grease muffin pans, and place in a 400˚F oven for 5 minutes. Quickly spoon batter into prepared pans, filling two-thirds full; bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from pans immediately.
Yield: 1 ½ dozen.