When it comes to southern cooking, chefs in the south know the goodness that comes from fresh okra. Good news for Floridians: okra grows great right here in North Central Florida. Right now during the fall is okra harvest season, which means our shelves are stocked with local and fresh okra for your favorite recipes.
If you’ve never tried this delicious vegetable for yourself, now is the perfect time to try them!
What is Okra?
Okra is a tropical plant that grows well in warm climates (like North Central Florida). It grows quickly, with the pods being ready for harvest within about 60 days. To ensure tenderness, okra must be picked before the pods mature and toughen. Okra is the only fruit-bearing member of the mallow family, which also includes cotton, hibiscus, and hollyhock.
Okra is not only a delicious vegetable, but it also has many health benefits. Okra is a good source of fiber, protein, healthy fats and vitamins K, C, B1, and B6. Okra has also been shown in recent studies to decrease blood sugar.
Okra also comes in a variety of shades, including a new red variety. Red okra pods are just as edible as their green cousins, but unfortunately, lose their beautiful red hue when cooked.
How to Shop for and Store Okra
When it comes to shopping for okra in a local grocery store, there are a few things you should do and look for:
- Ask For The Origin: Try to find out where your okra is sourced from. The more local the source, the better it is for your wallet, the environment, and the freshness of the vegetable itself. The less time in transport, the better!
- Look for Brightly Colored Pods: The brightness of the pods indicate freshness and tenderness.
- Avoid Long Pods: Pods should not be more than 4 inches long. Long pods have a higher chance of being mature, which means a tougher outside shell.
- Check the Texture: If an okra pod is overripe, it has a very sticky and slimy texture. Okra should be tender but firm. A perfect okra should snap easily in half. Avoid pods that are dull, dry-looking, blemished, or limp.
To store okra, keep the pods in a paper bag or wrapped in paper towels inside of a perforated plastic bag. Store them in the warmest part of your refrigerator, as okra doesn’t tend to do well in environments below 45 degrees for a long period of time. We recommend you leave them unwashed until you’re ready to use them, as washing them will leave them slimy. Try to use okra within 2-3 days after purchase.
Okra can also be frozen for longer storage. Trim the ends (remember not to cut into the pod when you trim), and then blanch them for 3 to 4 minutes, depending on the size of the pods. Then, you can freeze the whole pod or slice the pods crosswise. Arrange them on a cookie sheet with parchment paper, then freeze. Once frozen, transfer the okra to a zip-close freezer bag (or vacuum sealed bag, but be careful not to remove all the air, as the okra might be crushed).
How to Prepare Okra
Some people are turned off by the fuzzy outside shell of okra as well as the texture. But, if the okra is prepared correctly, okra becomes a delicious addition to many recipes.
If you’re from the South, you’ve likely had fried okra at least once in your life. Love it or hate it, it has become a southern staple. To make this recipe, choose very young and tender pods. Then, slice the pods, dip them in egg, bread them in cornmeal, and fry them up!
Soups & Stews
Gumbo recipes aren’t complete without okra. In fact, gumbo actually got its name from the original Bantu name for okra, “kingombo”. Okra actually works in other soups and stews as well, as it becomes a thickening agent when sliced in soups.
A favorite in Texas and the rest of the south, okra can be brined and pickled with a variety of vinegar, oils, and spices. Remember to use bright and tender pods for extra crunchiness!
Grilled & Roasted Okra
If you’re put off by the sliminess of okra that is prepared other ways than grilling okra would be a great option for you. All you need to do is toss the whole okra pod in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Grill for 8-12 minutes until browned but still firm. You can also roast the okra on a greased baking sheet at 425° for the same amount of time.
Find Locally Grown Okra at Ward’s Supermarket
We offer fresh okra here in the store that is grown from local farmers from the Gainesville area. This time of year is the perfect time to enjoy this southern favorite, as okra is usually freshest in the fall season. There are many ways to enjoy okra, and we hope we’ve inspired you to try this vegetable for yourself soon!