Getting Fresh: An Okra Valentine

Bamia, bhindi, gombo, lady's fingers, quingombo -- these are just a few of the world's many pet names for my beloved okra. Unless you live on the North Pole, chances are you're able to get your hands on some okra. Because it thrives under hot and humid conditions, it has made its way into kitchens around the globe, from Angola to Texas, Barbados to Turkey.

Introducing the beautiful Miz Lady Finger. (Kim O'Donnel)

Word has it that the taut green (and sometimes red) seed pods are quite ancient, originating in Ethiopia and making their way along the Nile River to Egypt. But okra didn't stop there; she embarked on a world tour and went west, boarding slave ships in places like Ghana and Senegal, later getting dropped off in Brazil, the Caribbean and eventually, slave trade hot spots such as Charleston and New Orleans.

She's a tough lady finger, I'll tell ya. And yet people still give her the short shrift, complaining about her slimy nature and other such nonsense. I've never been bothered by the slime, as I know she's a hard worker, playing an important function as a thickener in stews, soups and gumbo (as in a pot of Louisiana-style gumbo, darlin').

But last year, I discovered something very interesting about the slime that everyone loves to hate. Also known as mucilage, the slime is a form of soluble fiber, the stuff that doctors want us to eat more of to help lower our blood cholesterol levels. hat slime is Mother Nature's way of helping your heart, just like a bowl of oatmeal. In fact, one cup of cooked okra contains 4 grams of fiber, similar to a 1 1/2-cup serving of cooked oatmeal, which contains about 3 grams of fiber.

Okra pancakes: A good reason to fry. (Kim O'Donnel)

That soluble fiber (other examples are pectin found in apples and citrus fruits) attaches itself to cholesterol and shoos it out of the digestive tract, which helps lower blood cholesterol levels.

Isn't that cool?

Even better, there's an okra recipe for every day of the week -- and then some. Sure, you can fry her, but she's also wonderful roasted, grilled, stuffed, steamed, pickled and sauteed with other summer veg.

With a bag of okra purchased at the Columbia Pike farmers' market this Sunday, I was ready to cook, but undecided about style and technique. The first thing to came to mind was a paper cone of fried cornmeal-coated okra slices, for sale at a gas station right outside Pass Christian, Miss. The last time I had seen local foods sold at the petrol station was when I was in Grenada, where you could buy a roti while you pumped.

So, what would it be - Fried? Roasted? Curried? Sauteed with tomatoes and garlic?

I was jumping all over the map too -- contemplating recipes from the American south to East Africa and back again -- and then I saw the words "okra pancakes."

Even though I knew that frying would be involved, I wanted to try out these fritter-y sounding morsels, which are the genius of the late Edna Lewis and her cooking partner Scott Peacock.

Fluffy and airy, the cornmeal-flour batter contains an egg and baking powder for a good rise, which allows the sliced okra and onion to almost suspend inside the fritter, allowing it to be its own entity yet part of a whole.

Yeah, I fried me up some okra pancakes, and baby, were they lip-smacking wonderful. Because they spend little time in the hot oil (about 3 minutes), the okra stays green and vibrant and it crunches in your mouth, feeling fresh rather than oily and saturated.

I know, I know, all this talk about okra's naturally occurring cholesterol busters, and now I'm offering up fried okra. But that's where you come in. Share your favorite way of eating Miz Lady Finger in the comments area below, and we'll have okra every night til the first frost.

P.S. Today's What's Cooking starts earlier than usual, at 11 a.m.

Recipe below the jump.

Okra Pancakes
From "The Gift of Southern Cooking" by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock


1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 cups thinly sliced okra (about 1/4-inch)
oil for frying

In a mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, 1 teaspoon of the salt and baking powder and stir well to blend.

In a separate bowl, whisk together egg and water, then stir into the dry ingredients, mixing only until moistened (lumps okay). Sprinkle remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt black pepper over onion and sliced okra, and toss lightly. Fold seasoned vegetables into the batter.

Pour 1 inch of oil into a heavy skillet and heat to 340 degrees. Spoon okra batter by heaping tablespoons into hot oil; do not overcrowd pan (KOD note: In a nine-inch cast-iron skillet, I was able to fit four at a time.) Fry until golden brown on one side, and with a slotted spoon or tongs, carefully turn and continue frying until second side is browned, about 3 minutes. Remove from oil and drain well on paper towels.

Keep in a warm oven until ready to serve. Makes approximately 16 2-inch pancakes

By Kim ODonnel |  August 14, 2007; 9:39 AM ET Getting Fresh , Summer , Vegetarian/Vegan
Previous: Please Play With Your Orzo | Next: A Good Connecticut Morning


Please email us to report offensive comments.

That sounds great! I like sliced okra sauteed with olive oil, onion, garlic, salt, oregano, and a bit of lemon juice (pseudo-Greek style?). Also, the vegetarian brunswick stew in the Sundays at the Moosewood Cafe cookbook is delicious and a good way to use a lot of southern summer vegetables.

Posted by: falafelbot | August 14, 2007 3:30 PM

Curried Okra, Yum! I'll have to try out the recipe in the link provided.

Posted by: Fairlington Blade | August 14, 2007 3:33 PM

Yay! This post is perfect. I bought okra this weekend from some Mennonites in So Maryland because it looked so nice in their cart. I didn't really know what I was going to do with it until now. :)

Posted by: Em | August 14, 2007 3:38 PM

We love okra in Florida, so much so we have a party each year. Check out

Posted by: Mick | August 14, 2007 4:44 PM

Yum, Yum! I love fresh okra and real butter heated on high in a bowl in the microwave for 3 or 4 minutes.

Posted by: Jim | August 14, 2007 5:28 PM

Nearly everything on your blog is fried! No wonder your country is suffering an obesity epidemic.

Posted by: Anon | August 15, 2007 10:11 AM

I'm wondering if these could be "oven fried." I've had success with other cornmeal coated veggies, including fried green tomatoes, as well as salmon patties, by using non-stick olive oil spray. Lightly spray a baking pan, place the items to be cooked on the tray, and lightly spray them, baking until nicely browned.
I may try the okra pancakes this way--they sound delicious, and I love okra. Thanks for the recipe.

Posted by: Rebecca in VA. | August 15, 2007 10:35 AM

I love Nathalie Dupree's recipe for Deep-Fried Okra. Soak the okra in buttermilk and an egg, then coat with a combination of flour and cracker crumbs. Yum!

Posted by: fxlibrarian | August 15, 2007 7:02 PM

I'm the one who chimed in on the chat for condiments to serve with these. We went ahead and whipped up a batch- These are soooo good! Kind of like vegetable hush puppies, but somehow so much better. We ate them plain, but the next day I used some sweet chili sauce as a dip.

Posted by: cew5x | August 16, 2007 3:16 PM

I have a great recipe (from Epicurious, I think) for roasted potato and okra salad. I leave out a lot of their ingredients and just roast potatoes and okra with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then put a dressing of lemon juice, shallots, salt and pepper and olive oil on them. It's incredibly great.

Posted by: thistle | August 16, 2007 4:48 PM

I use raw okra in fresh salads. Just cut off the tips, slice it thinly and toss. Also you can saute the okra with just onions and crushed garlic. It is also wonderful in vegetable soups.

Posted by: L Diaz | August 23, 2007 11:08 AM

There are two okra recipes in the 1984 Southern Living Annual Recipes (page 158). One is Okra Surprise, which I call "Corn, Okra and Tomatos", and the other is Sauteed Corn and Okra. Neither are FRIED! Both are good enough to make you want to "slap yo momma"! They are also good enough for me to put together in the summer when I have all the ingredients from the garden, and then freeze. The sauteed recipe also calls for bacon, and I think most people (KIDS!!) will eat almost anything made with bacon! One person I made it for who said he didn't like okra...ate three large servings.

Posted by: Lisa Rollens | August 23, 2007 11:42 AM

I love Okra and would love to plant some in my
Southern California garden. Would appreciate
tips from anyone where to get the seeds, etc.


Posted by: linda Nietes | August 23, 2007 3:41 PM

Just made a crockpot full for dinner from my garden: okra, blackeyed peas, tomato juice, onions,celery, peppers, thyme, cayenne and garlic cooked slow in the pot and served with steamed seasoned shrimp over rice. With the shrimp and peas, double good for the heart.

Even my smallest okra is so crusty this drought year that it does better slow-cooked. Will try the pancakes if I have some more tender pods later!

Posted by: Theresa Curry | August 23, 2007 3:50 PM

Okra hummmmm fine, Here in Brazil a good dish using okra is to prepare with chicken,I remember good time when I ate it at a special state that makes a fantastic dish in Minas Gerais.
Try on , it worth.

Posted by: José Albuquerque | August 24, 2007 8:19 PM

Okra cooked with salted cod fish and shrimp is simply Delicious. Yum, Yum.

Posted by: Marguerite Chapman | September 6, 2007 12:43 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company