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3 okra pods growing

Okra: A Southern Classic With Benefits

Kristy Dodson
Kristy Dodson

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There are certain foods that are one and the same with the south. To me, okra is one of those foods. Strangely enough, people usually love it or hate it. There isn’t a middle ground for most, but maybe knowing a little more about its offerings can change that. Okra is a southern classic with benefits!

whole okra in a pile on a kitchen countertop
Fresh cut okra waiting to be enjoyed.

Fruit or Vegetable

In the kitchen, okra is treated as a vegetable. But did you know that it is technically a fruit? Since it comes from a flowering plant and has seeds, it is a fruit. It falls into the same category as tomatoes and can sometimes cause a heated discussion! Either way, I treat them both as vegetables since that is how I use them in the kitchen.

Nightshade Vegetables…What Are They?

Okra is a nightshade vegetable. The origin of the name nightshades is unclear but could be related to their dark and mystical past. Some nightshades are rumored to have been formerly used as narcotics and hallucinogens ((What are Nightshades?https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/nightshade-vegetables#what-are-nightshades)). I hesitate to even mention nightshades when sharing about okra since there are definite opinions about these vegetables and whether we should eat them or avoid them. I will leave that for you to decide. However, I am of the opinion that if you can tolerate them without side effects, then you should enjoy them and reap the many health benefits that come with their delicious flavor.

tomatoes and peppers in a silver bucket

Familiar Nightshades

  • Tomatoes
  • Okra
  • White Potatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Tobacco
  • Tomatillos
  • Paprika

Change It Up

Growing up, I only remember okra as a fried side dish or a slimy vegetable that was cooked in our peas. I loved it both ways and still do. It is hard to resist snacking on the okra that rests on the paper towel after being fried…it is perfect! On a rare occasion when there happen to be leftovers, I refrigerate the fried okra and look forward to a salty snack tomorrow. As a gardener and an avid cook, I have discovered okra to be versatile, effortless to grow, and easy to add to any menu. Add okra to soups and gumbos, boil it, fry it, pickle it or like me…try roasting!

sliced okra next to a labeled freezer bag
Slice your okra and it’s ready to be enjoyed anyway you choose.

Roasting Okra…A Healthy Benefit

While frying and boiling are still some of my go-to cooking methods, I have recently discovered roasting okra as a healthy change. Simply slice the okra top to bottom, place it on a baking sheet (I line mine with parchment paper), and drizzle with avocado oil. Season it with sea salt and fresh black pepper and bake at 425 for about 12-15 minutes. The game-changing step…. grate fresh parmesan on the okra during the last five minutes of roasting and you will not be able to stop at just one, or five…okay maybe 10!

Slice, season, roast and enjoy!

Enjoy Your Okra…You Have Options!

One comment I hear often when okra is mentioned is that the slimy texture is why some do not like to eat it. Well, be encouraged. The slimy “mucilage” is a good thickening agent in soups and stews. If you want to lessen the sliminess, add acidic ingredients like lemon juice, tomatoes, or vinegar. Enjoy okra, a southern classic, in many ways…

Full Sun for A Full Harvest

Okra is grown in warmer climates. It should be planted after the last frost and will thrive in warm, full sun. After about two months, the plant produces a beautiful hibiscus-like flower that then develops into the green pods that are familiar. The pods should be harvested once they are 2-4 inches in length. My friend who grows some of the best okra recommends harvesting them every other day once they start to produce fruit. Any time I have been with him to pick okra he has had the same pocket knife handy. One of the many garden tips he has taught me is that okra should be cut, not picked.

okra growing in a garden
Okra thrives in full sun and tolerates drought-like conditions.

A Southern Classic With Benefits

Not only is Okra delicious and easy to prepare, but it has many benefits. It is loaded with nutrients and can be frozen and enjoyed all year. Unlike most other fruits and veggies, it contains protein and is low in carbohydrates and calories! In addition, here are a few other health benefits we receive from okra:

  • Magnesium – an important mineral worth learning about
  • B Vitamins – especially B6
  • Calcium for strong bones
  • Polyphenols – heart and brain health
  • Vitamin C – boosts the immune system
  • Antioxidant properties
  • Lectin Protein – plays a role in cancer prevention
  • May control blood sugar ((Okra Nutrition https://draxe.com/nutrition/okra-nutrition/)).

No matter how you enjoy it most, it’s a good source of fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, folate and more.

Dr. Josh Axe, Co-Founder Ancient Nutrition

You Don’t Have to be Southern

Okra is a southern classic with benefits that can be dressed up and served anytime. Simply add it to a charcuterie board or serving it as a condiment while tailgating takes your snack to a healthier level! Don’t worry if you don’t have a garden, okra is readily available in most areas. You don’t have to be southern to give okra a try. Maybe you will decide it is time to join those of us who love it and all of its benefits!

A knife, fork and spoon for dining.

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3 Responses

  1. Growing up in the south, it’s hard to recall my first serving of okra. It’s always been there, at our family meals, at family get-togethers, and at local restaurants. It’s truly a pillar of southern culture. Fried, roasted, pickled, and boiled. I’ll take okra anyway I can get it.

  2. Wow! There’s a lot more to okra than I ever knew! Thanks for that lesson in one of my favorites! I will definitely be trying it roasted in the oven!

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