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Okra is the right pick

By Beth Cecil
Owensboro Health HealthPark dietitian

Last week my husband Philip and I went and picked fresh okra from his parent’s garden. When he first mentioned picking okra, I laughed to myself and thought: “standing in this heat picking okra- yeah right!”  Maybe tomatoes or corn, but I did not see myself picking okra on that hot day.

Having a family who originated from Northern Indiana, it was after college before I ever tried okra, a food much more common in the south. I wasn’t completely sure how I felt about it, but I did know that it wasn’t anywhere on my top ten list of favorite vegetables.

But we picked okra anyway and then Philip canned it. In the meantime, I did a little research on this fuzzy, green, lantern-shaped vegetable.

While okra probably is not one of the most popular vegetables, it is nothing to snub your nose at either. Low in calories, okra is actually a nutrient powerhouse. 

Okra is sodium, fat and cholesterol free and contains only 25 calories per one-half cup serving. Each serving also contains 2 grams of fiber

Nearly half of the fiber in okra is soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of heart disease. Insoluble fiber, also found in okra, helps keep the intestinal tract healthy, can help relieve constipation and may decrease the risk of colon cancer.

Okra is a good source of vitamin C, which can help the body’s immune system and protect from harmful free radicals.

Vitamin A and other flavonoid anti-oxidants are found in okra too. These can help maintain healthy skin, mucus membranes and vision.

The veggies are also rich in vitamin K, manganese, thiamin, pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and folate.

And what’s more, there are many good and healthful uses for this unique veggie. While often used in stews and soups because of its thickening power, okra may also be boiled, steamed, sautéed or stir-fried whole. It is popular in gumbo, but can also be a good compliment for tomatoes, onions, corn, fish and shellfish.

To reduce the slime sometimes associated with okra, avoid puncturing the capsule, limit the amount of cutting done to the pod and avoid overcooking it.

After our adventure in the garden, I now have a complete new appreciation for his dad, mom and all the others who plant and harvest fresh vegetables. It is hard work, but the rewards are well worth it!  I did, by the way, get some tomatoes, corn and green beans that day too.

From Beth's Kitchen

Okra and Green Beans

Ingredients
  • 1 pound okra, uncut
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 pound fresh green beans
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
Directions
  • Wash okra pods, trim stems but do not remove caps. Wash beans and cut into 3-inch lengths. Combine water, tomato paste, olive oil, onion, garlic salt and pepper in a saucepan and mix well. Heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil. Add okra and beans and additional water if necessary to almost cover vegetables.
  • Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer gently until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 20-30 minutes. May be served warm or cold.
  • This dish may also be oven-baked. Lightly cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F.
  • Makes 6 servings: Per serving: Calories: 106, protein: 5 g, fat: 3 g, cholesterol: 0 mg, carbohydrates: 19 g, fiber: 7 g, sodium: 187 mg
  • If desired, after washing okra, soak okra in vinegar for 30 minutes to remove some of the stickiness.

From the University of Illinois Extension

Read other articles by Beth

Meet Our Dietitian

At Owensboro Health, you’ll get nutrition counseling from a registered nutritionist — an expert in medical nutrition therapy. Beth Cecil, RDN, LD (right), is certified in food allergy management and is a Lifestyle Coach for the Diabetes Prevention Program. She also holds a Certificate of Training in Childhood and Adolescent Management, so you can trust her to care for your or your loved one’s specialized needs.