Foodie: Okra is one of the most versatile vegetables

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By Elizabeth Markley Holm

There is an abundance of okra in farmer’s markets at this time of year. Those green pods look intriguing, but also intimidating. What do you do with them?

I grew up in Pennsylvania and never ate okra, let alone cooked it. But after mov- ing to Virginia, I discovered this amazing vegetable that is unique because of both the variety of ways to prepare it and its extensive health benefits.

Okra can be fried, roasted or put in soups and stews such as gumbo and Brunswick stew. My favorite way to prepare it is to saute it with onions, tomatoes and fresh corn to make a delicious vegetable medley. I call it The Best Way to Eat Okra.

What makes this dish so wonderful is the component of okra that also makes it nutritious — an abundance of soluble, mucilaginous fibers that, when cooked, allow a dish to obtain the perfect consistency and thickness.

These slimy substances that some people disdain also can help prevent heart disease and make diabetes more manageable. They lower cholesterol and slow the rate at which sugars are absorbed into the blood stream.

Okra is a good source of vitamin C and antioxidants, which scavenge free radicals in human cells and prevent damage that can cause cancer. It contains folate known to lower homocysteine, which in excess is associated with an increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

Although okra is low in fat, it is high in linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fat that is essential for health. In addition, okra is rich in the amino acids lysine and tryptophan that create a complete protein in vegetarian diets when balanced with grains like corn and rice.

When buying okra, select the smallest pods. They are the tenderest and the most delectable. Okra thrives in hot weather, but there still should be plenty at the market through September.

The Best Way to Eat Okra

Ingredients

3/4 pound okra
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 cup chopped onions
2 ears fresh corn
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Instructions

1. Cut the okra into 1/4 inch rounds, discarding the stems and tops.
2. Cook the tomatoes for about 20 minutes to get rid of
The Best Way to Eat Okra
excess juice.
3. Cut the corn off of the cobs.
4. Heat oil in skillet. Cook onions and okra in oil until the on- ions are wilted and the okra is browned on the edges, about 10 to 15 minutes.
5. Add tomatoes and salt and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
6. Add corn and cook just long enough to heat corn thoroughly; approximately 4 to 5 minutes.
7. Add pepper and serve.

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