Lani Telian, Department of Public Health
One night last summer, I scooted home to have dinner with my parents. My mother, as always, was cooking a delicious Armenian meal with lots of side dishes. I saw some greens simmering in a pot, and cried “what the heck IS that?” “Okra!” she said happily and continued on cooking.
Also referred to as gumbo or lady’s fingers, okra pods are the hidden gem of summer vegetables. Okra is a powerhouse of nutrition – it’s a great source of vitamin C and low in calories. It grows in a long, lantern shape and is usually between 2-5 inches long. It’s a little fuzzy, green-colored and ribbed pod that, when cooked, takes on a gooey consistency that makes it a blast to eat.
You can buy okra pods either fresh or frozen. If buying fresh, choose pods that are medium-dark green with no blemishes. Wash and dry each pod, and if you want a gooier feel, slice the pods or chop off the caps. Here are two of my favorite ways to cook okra:
Stewed Okra and Tomatoes, or “Bamia”
- 1 ½ tsp olive oil
- 2/3 cup sliced onion
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 large can crushed tomatoes (or, 1 ½ cups chopped fresh tomatoes)
- Salt, to taste
- Ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 ½ lbs of whole fresh or frozen okra pods
- 1 cup water
- Pinch of fresh or dried parsley
Heat oil over medium heat. Fry around the onions for about 30 seconds, then add garlic. Before the garlic starts to burn, add tomatoes, okra, water, salt and pepper. Let it come to a boil, then cover and cook over low-to-medium heat until the okra pods are soft (about 20-30 minutes). You can serve this as a side dish, or put it over brown rice for a delicious vegetarian meal.
- Non-fat cooking spray
- 1 20-ounce bag of frozen sliced okra, thawed
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- 2 cups yellow corn meal (only about ½ cup sticks to the okra)
Preheat oven to 475°F, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil sprayed with cooking spray. Spray the inside of a gallon-sized food storage bag with cooking spray. Add the okra, salt, and pepper. Close the bag and shake well. Then add cornmeal, close bag and shake until the okra is completely coated. Place the coated okra on the baking sheet. Spray again, and bake for 20 minutes. Turn okra pods over, spray them again, and cook for another 20 minutes. Each pod should be crispy when you remove them from the oven.
Okra can be intimidating if you’ve never prepared or cooked it, but these are easy ways for you to get started. Are you up for the challenge?