The plant is thought to be of African origin, brought to the United States from Africa three centuries ago by enslaved people. The word "okra" is derived from the West African nkruma. Okra was in use by the late 1700s. Grown in tropical and warm temperate climates, it is a perennial in the same plant family as hibiscus and cotton. It is cultivated as an annual in temperate climates.
Okra is usually available fresh year-round in the South, and from May to October in many other areas. You can also find okra frozen, pickled, and canned, and in some regions, you might find frozen breaded okra for deep frying.
Okra may be eaten raw or cooked, and it's a common ingredient in Creole cuisine.
How to Choose Okra
Look for brightly colored pods. Pods should be no more than 4 inches long. Avoid dull, bruised, soft, or blemished pods. If okra is too ripe, it will have a very sticky texture.
- Place fresh okra in a paper bag, or wrap it in a paper towel and place the paper towel in a perforated plastic bag.
- Store okra in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
- For longer storage, okra may be frozen. Trim the stem ends (do not cut into the pod when you trim), and then blanch for 3 to 4 minutes, depending on the size of the pods. Cool the pods quickly in ice water. Freeze the whole pods or slice the pods crosswise and arrange them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Freeze and then transfer the slices to zip-close freezer bags. Vacuum seal if possible, but don't remove all of the air from the bags or the okra might be crushed.
- Okra is excellent stewed, sautéed, stir-fried, and deep-fried. It makes excellent pickles as well.
- Okra goes well with tomatoes, onions, peppers, corn, and eggplants.
- The viscous liquid cut okra gives off will thicken any liquid it's cooked in, making it a wonderful addition to stews.
- Gumbo likely got its name from the okra pod. Though gumbo may be thickened with okra, file powder, or roux, many feel okra is an essential ingredient in any good gumbo.
- Battering and frying okra eliminates the off-putting sliminess many people dislike.
- When preparing the downy variety of okra, gently scrub the surface with a paper towel.
- Before cooking whole okra, slice off the tips and stem ends.
- Some complementary ingredients and sauces include basil, garlic, butter, lemon, parsley, tomatoes, vinaigrette, and hollandaise.