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Green okra has a torpedo-shaped pod ranging in length of five to six inches when harvested mature. The pods are pale lime to lime green color, their exterior has furrowed lengthwise grooves. The skin can often be fuzzy to prickly, which can cause an allergic reaction to sensitive skin. The flesh bears a tender spongy membrane with many small white seeds. Okra is known less for its lean flavor and more for its sticky sap that creates the flesh's gelatinous texture.
Okra is available year-round with a peak season during the summer months.
Green okra is a member of the mallow family along with cotton, cocoa and hibiscus. The okra plant produces broad oak-shaped leaves with bold yellow and white hibiscus-like blossoms. The fruits sprout in vertical patterns from the plant's stems. The sign of a plant flowering indicates fruits will develop quickly within 3-5 days. Young fruits must be harvested daily as the fruits are known to grow so fast you can almost see them growing in front of your eyes. One plant can produce up to 100 okra. Okra left on the stem too long will become tough and essentially unfit for use. Okra is grown for fresh-eating but it also has many other purposes. Okra plants are grown commercially for pickling and canning alone or as a canned soup ingredient, while the seeds are also harvested for making oil and in some cultures are ground and used as a coffee substitute or supplement.
With okra, harvesting young tender fruits and knowledge of how to cook it are two key ingredients. Okra is historically not eaten alone, rather paired in a multitude of recipes alongside ingredients with bold, complex flavors and varying textures. Okra is most often used as a soup or stew ingredient, though its textures and flavors are truly enhanced when fried and grilled. Okra pairs well with basil, bacon, beet greens, butter, cream, garlic, ham, lemon, kale, onions, parsley, olive oil, pickled vegetables, chile peppers and peppercorns, paprika, tomatoes and turnips.
French colonists brought the first okra seeds to America in Louisiana, a precursor to okra establishing itself as a predominant ingredient in Southern American cooking.
Okra is native to what is referred to as the Abyssinian center of origin of cultivated plants. This region includes present-day Ethiopia and the mountainous area of Eritrea. Historically, there was little contact with this region, thus there limited and speculative documented evidence about its ancient agricultural relevance or how it was distributed throughout Africa. It was during the 12th Century that okra was transported to Arabia from Egypt via the Red Sea. It was then adapted throughout the Mediterranean and eastward in Asia. Okra reached the New World via the triangular trade route, arriving in Brazil in the 17th Century from Africa. Okra is a warm-season crop, requires full sun and can even tolerate little rain or irrigation. Like many crops, okra prefers to be planted alongside specific plants. Companion plants include basil, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, and southern peas.
Recipes that include Green Okra. One is easiest, three is harder.