It’s gooey, it’s slimy, it’s OKRA. It may get a bad rap, but around here, we know it as DELICIOUS.
The magical green vegetable originated in the African region we now know as Ethiopia and made its way through North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean before heading to the rest of the world. In Asia, the veggie is known as “lady’s fingers,” on the island of Macau it is called quilobo, while in North America, it’s Igbo name okwuru stuck to become today’s OKRA.
Okra came rather late to colonial America. Though introduced to the lower Americas during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Okra didn’t make it to Louisiana until the 1700s. When it hit New Orleans, it was often prepared in a peppery stew made with rice, hominy, or corn mush. Yum. Okra was boiled down with onions and tomatoes to make sauce or it was boiled down on its own. Okra served with rice was and is pleasantly called Limpin’ Susan. (Don’t confuse it with Hoppin’ John!!)
Ochra (or okra) soup is a signature dish and staple throughout the South and is essential to Creole and Cajun cuisine. Where does the okra family history start and stop? No one knows. Remember when I said okra was called quilobo? That’s actually a variant of the KiMbundu word quingobo, the same word from which we derive “gumbo.” (Didn’t see that coming, am I right?) Okra and gumbo are nearly synonymous in some regions. In New Orleans, okra was used with roux (flour and lard!!) to thicken gumbo and today’s Louisiana “summer” gumbo is okra soup flavored with seafood or whatever is seasonal.
How do we cook it today? While still used in gumbos, okra is also pretty, pretty, pretty good on its own. Fry it, pickle it, eat it plain, the options are pretty endless. The green little things are a good source of vitamins C, A, and B, as well as iron and calcium. Okra is lo-cal and fat-free, but most importantly Okra is a CRAZY GOOD source of fiber.
Just remember– it’s supposed to be slimy, y’all!!!
- 1 pound okra
- Salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh thyme leaves to taste optional
- Freshly ground pepper
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Rinse the okra, and drain on a kitchen towel. The okra should be dry. Trim away the stem ends and the tips, just the very ends, and then place the okra in a large bowl. Salt to taste, and toss with the olive oil until coated.
- Lift the okra from the bowl, leaving behind any excess oil. Place on a sheet pan in one layer. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes (large okra might take a little longer), shaking the pan every five minutes. The okra should be lightly browned and tender, with a nice seared aroma. If you don’t want it to brown as much, set the oven at 400 degrees.
- Remove from the heat, toss with fresh thyme, if desired, and freshly ground pepper. Transfer to a platter. Serve hot.