Okra, ladies’ fingers or bamia as they are popularly known are a preserve for warm and temperate climates. They are originally from the North East African region but have managed to spread through many parts of Africa and indeed the world.
The green pods of the plant are what is eaten but must be harvested when they are still immature. This is because they are soft and enjoyable to eat at this time. Harvesting late will have you eating a fibrous mix that will leave you wondering whether you are having sugarcane pieces for lunch.
- Due to their fibre and mucus content, okra is very good at combating constipation.
- It has no cholesterol whatsoever, no saturated fats and contains 30 calories for every 100g. This makes it a good option in any weight-loss diet and is very good for diabetics.
- It contains good amounts of vitamin A and flavonoids such as beta carotene, lutein and xanthin. These are antioxidants that keep free radicals in check in the human body. This prevents diseases like cancer in the long run and ensures that the body remains healthy at all times. Vitamin A is known to improve vision, improve skin quality and maintain mucus membranes.
- They are rich in vitamin C. This helps build the body’s immunity against infections. Instances of colds and flu therefore become fewer and far between.
- They also contain folate. This is especially useful for those women trying to conceive. It prevents neural tube defects like spina bifida in the foetus.
- They contain a selection of B vitamins as well as vitamin K. Vitamin K is a co-factor in blood-clotting enzymes and is also useful for strengthening of bones.
Cooking it to its full potential
Many people shy away from this vegetable due to its mucus content that doesn’t seem to go away easily. It can be a little disheartening and even annoying at first but once you get the hang of it you will not turn back.
Thankfully, there are methods you can use to get rid of the slimy stuff so you can enjoy your okra. Adding a little lemon, lime or tamarind juice to your cooked okra is sure to cut the slippery stuff. This also adds a little tang to your meal for those interested in that particular taste.
Those whose palettes don’t appreciate such flavours can try frying the okra first. Place them in a pan with some oil and onions and sauté them until cooked (about five minutes or so) and then add your spices and tomatoes to make a stew. You can even throw in some eggs to make an omelette.
Those that wouldn’t want to use a lot of oil in their food can have the bamia roasted. Simply cut off the heads, slice them up and place them on a baking tray with a little oil and spices of your choice. You will know they are ready when they get a little sunken. You can wait for them to turn brown as well. You can also steam or boil them.
In Nigeria, okra is usually made into a stew with a mixture of different kinds of meat and leafy vegetables. Think chicken, beef, turkey, fish and even tripe! Anything goes but the meat has to be precooked so as to avoid overcooking the okra. Be willing to experiment with different recipes and ingredients to get that one that you like best. The cooking process takes a very short time so you can enjoy the nutritious goodness of okra within no time.