A healthful Southern delicacy
By Karen Frye
Flashbacks of my summers growing up bring fond memories. No social media. The phone was a party line, so you had to be quick with any conversations. There was just the splendor of family and nature. Climbing the big mimosa trees in the front yard or exploring the woods around the house was what I loved most. My grandparents had a large garden that included everything you could imagine to help feed our entire family. Aunts, uncles and cousins would gather around the table to devour family-style portions of the freshly picked vegetables. Stormy afternoons were spent on the front porch shelling bushels of peas and butterbeans. My grandmother was efficient at everything. Nothing went to waste. She was an amazing cook and loved to feed anyone who came through our door. She canned, froze and preserved anything that we didn’t eat.
There was always a long row of okra in the garden. The pods grow on a large, leafy plant with lovely flowers that bloom before the pods appear. Native to Africa, South America and the Middle East, okra has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. It is a low-calorie, high-fiber food. Some of the vitamins and minerals most abundant are vitamins B and C, especially folate and potassium. One cup of okra contains 33 calories and 44 percent of the bone-strengthening vitamin K that you need per day. The vitamin A in okra is good for your eyes, as well the antioxidants beta carotene and lutein, which help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. The gelatinous mucilage in okra, especially when you cook it, is recommended for digestive problems such as constipation and acid reflux. Okra has been studied for its effect on blood sugar levels. One study published by the open access Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences noted a connection between okra and lower blood sugar levels. The polysaccharides in okra open up the arteries and improve circulation.
Even if you haven’t acquired a taste for okra, you may want to include it in your diet. It’s easy to add to soups and gumbos, and you can even eat it raw. Slice it up and add it to a stir-fry with other vegetables. In the South, we like it fried, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but remember to use a healthy oil for frying.
My favorite way to prepare it is roasting the whole pod in a cast iron skillet until it’s crispy. It is a perfect side dish to any meal, even eggs. In some countries the okra seeds are even used as a coffee substitute.
This summer, as always, I have a beautiful raised bed of okra growing, which usually yields in early November. If you didn’t plant any in your garden this summer, you can find some great okra at our local farmers markets. Buy extra and freeze it, so you can enjoy it all year.
As always, food is our best medicine. PS
Karen Frye is the owner and founder of Nature’s Own and teaches yoga at the Bikram Yoga Studio.