Also known as Lady Fingers or gumbo, okra probably derives its name from nkuruma the West African Niger-Congo word for okra. Thought to have originated in Ethiopia, and cultivated by ancient Egyptians, okra was introduced to this country in the 1700s by African slaves.
OkraOkra is a species of the Hibiscus genus and a member of the mallow family, which includes hollyhock and the cotton plant. It grows best in warm climates, is available year round (summer is peak season) and should be picked 4-5 days after flowering – before the pods mature and toughen. Mature okra is used to make rope and paper. In the Middle East and Africa, the pods were eaten cooked, and the seeds were toasted and ground – used then (and today) as a coffee substitute. When cut these pods release a sticky substance with thickening properties, quite useful for soups and stews.
Although okra can be prepared in numerous ways, very young, tender pods can be sliced, dipped in egg, breaded with corn meal and fried. It is also delicious sautéed with corn kernels, onion and sweet peppers. Okra can also be steamed, baked, pickled, boiled or stewed. A ½-cup serving of cooked okra provides 1.5 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and abundant vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6 and folacin as well as potassium and calcium.

When shopping for okra, look for young rich green pods, firm but tender to the touch and no more than 4 inches long. Do not wash until ready to use. Store in a paper bag in the warmest part of the refrigerator.


Okra Soup
  • 1 soup bone
  • 1 ½ pounds stew beef
  • 1 large can of tomatoes
  • 1 cup butter beans (or green limas)
  • 3 cups sliced okra (fresh)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 ½ quarts water (about)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Boil soup bone and beef for two hours. Add other ingredients and boil for an hour or so. This soup may be served over a spoonful of rice placed in a soup bowl, and is a meal in itself.
The Beaufort Cookbook: A Treasury of Carolina Recipes (1965), collected by Dee Hryharrow and Isabel M. Hoogenboom
Okra With Tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced okra
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) tomatoes with juice, or 1 1/2 cups tomato puree
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon flour blended with 1 tablespoon cold water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Cook okra in boiling salted water 10 minutes. Drain. Brown onion and green pepper in salad oil. Add tomato juice, cook slowly 5 minutes. Add okra and remaining ingredients. Cook over low heat 5 minutes longer.