Okra A Southern Favorite

Cathy Agan  |  9/6/2013 9:06:33 PM

Okra is one of the favorite summer vegetables in the South. It grows through the hot summer months when other fresh vegetables are no longer available. Okra can be served in many ways other than traditional fried okra.

Okra can be boiled, fried, smothered, stewed, and pickled. It makes a great addition to soups and gumbos by adding flavor and serving as a thickening agent. Okra is a good source of vitamin C, carotene, niacin, calcium, iron, and dietary fiber while being low in calories. Ten 3-inch pods have only 30 calories.

When selecting okra, check for tenderness by pressing the tip of the pod. If it snaps, it’s tender. In general, small to medium size pods will be tenderer than large pods. Okra should be stored in the vegetable crisper or in plastic bags in the refrigerator. It will store well for about a week in refrigeration. If okra is held too long, it becomes shriveled and discolored and loses flavor and vitamin C.

For longer storage, consider freezing fresh okra to enjoy all winter. Smooth type varieties of okra freeze as well as or better than the ridged varieties. Begin by washing the okra thoroughly. Cut off the stems, but do not open the seed cells. Bring a gallon of water to a boil to blanch the okra. Blanching stops the action of enzymes that break down the vegetable. Add okra to the boiling water by using a blanching basket or a wire basket. Cover the pot. When the water returns to a boil, begin timing. Blanch small pods three minutes and large pods four minutes. Remove pods from the boiling water, drain, and cool quickly in ice water or cold running water. Drain and leave whole or slice crosswise. Place okra in freezer bags or containers leaving ½ -inch headspace. Seal and freeze at zero degrees or below.

If desired, you can bread okra for frying before freezing. Just follow the steps above to blanch the okra. After cooling and draining the okra, slice crosswise and dredge with meal or flour. Spread in a single layer on shallow trays or cookie sheets. Place in freezer just long enough to freeze firm. Remove okra, and package in freezer bags or containers leaving ½-inch headspace, working quickly so that okra does not thaw; seal and freeze.

Click here to download the publication “Freezing Okra”.  Visit www.lsuagcenter.com for more information on okra including growing okra in Louisiana. You can also call your local office of the LSUAgCenter. For a list of LSU AgCenter offices, click here.

Old Fashioned Pickled Okra

10 pints small, tender okra (4 pounds)
¾ cup salt
8 cups pure vinegar
1 cup water
10 pods red or green hot pepper
10 cloves garlic
Dill weed or seed, if desired

Boil 10 pint canning jars for 15 minutes. Leave in hot water until ready for use. Wash okra with a vegetable brush. Leave short stem. If you prick each pod several times with a needle or fine-pointed knife, pickling solution will enter pod more quickly. This may help prevent floating. Put in hot jars with stems alternating up and down for a better pack. Place one pepper and one clove of garlic in each jar. Add 1 teaspoon dill seed, if desired. Heat vinegar, salt and water to boiling. Pour into each jar, covering okra. Remove air bubbles, wipe sealing edge and close with new jar lids following manufacturer’s directions. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes at a simmering temperature (180 degrees F). Immediately remove from water, cool. Store for a month before using to develop flavor. (*Recipe taken from the LSU AgCenter website and provided by Lou Altazan-Brown.)
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