Experience African Flavors by Growing Okra
Growing okra is just as simple as growing peas or beans. This vegetable belongs to the mallow family and is native in Ethiopia (East Africa).
What is Okra?
Okras grow bush-like and can reach a height of up to 8 feet. The leaves are a little spiky and the large flowers have a stunning yellow colour. The actual fruit is green and long with a maximum size of about 7 inches. Okra skin is a little hairy and the insides are filled with tiny white seeds. Okras are one of the oldest vegetable varieties, reaching back 3000 years when the Egyptians grew it along the Nil. It first reached the US with the transportation of African slaves. The word 'okra' originates in one of the many West African languages, and researchers assume that it comes from Igbo or Akan. Today, growing okra is one of the most important trade resources of countries such as India, Pakistan and Nigeria. Okras are very low in calories and the taste is very similar to green beans. In particular, African and Middle Eastern cuisines contain many dishes with okra as they create the most amazing dishes. It has also been found in many Asian cultures and Latin America. Very popular are okra stews and okras served in a tomato based sauce.
Just like tomatoes and peppers, okra need a fairly mild climate and the seeds should not be planted in temperatures below 77°F. The plant is very sensitive to cold and frost, thus will not survive even the shortest periods of weather below 50°F. The best way is to plant the seeds in a pot indoors and ensure that the temperature requirements are met. In spring you may proceed and plant the okra outdoors and hope for a warm summer. If you live in a warm climate area, you will not have any trouble growing okra as the plant takes care of itself. All you need to ensure is sun and enough water. You can aid the growth by providing artificial lighting and warmth if the weather is still a little chilly. The soil is less important, and the average loose gardening soil is absolutely sufficient for a successful harvest in the summer. You must also protect the plant from wind and excessive rain, so plant it near a larger tree or bush to provide shelter. Once the plant has become larger and stronger, it is less delicate and sensitive.
When cooked, okras dispense of a gooey substance that is ideal to thicken sauces or other dishes. If you have no use for that substance you can simply blanch the okras in vinegar for 5 minutes and store them in lemon water for about 2 hours before cooking. Dried okra is also often used in the kitchen to thicken sauces and ragouts. You can dry the fruits by picking them and leaving them in the sun for about 5 hours. It is also possible to dry them on the plant, but this is more risky especially for gardening beginners. To use it in the kitchen, simply add a few pieces of dried okra into the sauce and it will automatically thicken it. The seeds inside the okra can be roasted and used to make coffee! Kids and craft fans also use large dried okra fruits to make Christmas angels and other typed of decoration because okras are some of the only foods that dry hard enough and are durable for such things. Fried okras are also a delight, and they are often dipped in Mediterranean sauces or Middle Eastern veggie pastes.