Okra’s ‘Goo’ Is Good For You

Look for young pods no more than 4 inches long

Ned and Marta Whitlock grow crops on 28 acres, harvest six days a week, and ship up to 200 pounds of produce to Oahu weekly.

Some of what they grow: Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cherry tomatoes, citrus, curly kale, dragon fruit, eggplant, fennel, green beans, herbs, joi choi, Lacinato kale, lemon grass, lettuce, longon, lychee, around 30 varieties of mango, okra, papaya, radicchio, rambutan and taro.

OKRA Once cut, okra releases a sticky substance called mucilage that acts as a thickener. This “goo” makes okra a prized vegetable for soups and stews.

Okra is popular throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Callaloo, the national dish of Trinidad, is made with okra and taro leaves. The Malaysians stuff okra with fish paste before boiling it with vegetables and tofu. In India and Pakistan, it is diced and stir-fried with spices, pickled, salted or added to gravy-based dishes like bhindi ghosht or sambar.

Season: Because of the excellent growing conditions on Kaua’i, okra is available year-round.

Kamli of Moloa‘a Organica‘a laughs with a customer at the Kapa‘a farmers market. Daniel Lane photos

What to look for: Select young, narrow pods with a fine down that are no more than 4 inches long; these will be tender and sweet. Pods longer than 4 inches have prickly hairs and are tough, woody and very difficult to eat.

Storage: Place okra in a paper bag and store in the refrigerator for up to three days. It can be frozen for up to 12 months, after blanching whole for 2 minutes. Tightly cover cooked okra and store in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Tips: Okra is a notable source of pectin. If the pods are blanched, the mucilage will stay in the water. Other ways to reduce sliminess are to quickly stir-fry, or add some type of acid such as vinegar, lemon juice or tomatoes. For the gardener, okra flourishes if grown with melons and cucumbers.

Preparation: Okra’s mild flavor goes well with tomatoes, onions, corn, peppers and eggplant. Whole, fresh okra pods also make excellent pickles.

Farmers Ned and Marta Whitlock. Daniel Lane photos

Health benefits: Okra is a good source of dietary fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, thiamin, calcium, phosphorus, vitamins A, C, E and B6. It averages 32 calories for approximately 10 pods. The mucilage in okra helps lubricate the intestines and soothes duodenal ulcers. In India, infusions of the pods are used to treat urinogenital problems and chest infections.

Moloa’a Organica’a produce can be found at: Farmers Market: Waipa, Tuesdays at 2 p.m; Kapa’a, Wednesdays at 3 p.m.; Kilauea, Thursdays at 4:30 p.m; Hanalei, Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. Grocery: Harvest Market, Healthy Hut, Kilauea Town Market, Hoku Foods, Papaya’s Natural Foods, Living Foods Poi’pu, Kukui’ula Market. Restaurants: BarAcuda, Kaua’i Grill, Postcards Cafe, The Tavern, Lilikoi Lunch Wagon, Moloa’a Fruit Stand, Coconut Cup, Oasis on the Beach, Red Salt, 22 North, Merriman’s, Roy’s, Josselin’s and local produce distributor Cultivate Kaua’i. Call 651-1446.

QUICK AND EASY GUMBO

Along the Gulf Coast of the United States, gumbo is flavored with a flour and fat mixture called roux. The roux can be cooked anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, adding a complex depth of flavor the longer it’s cooked. This recipe omits the roux so it’s relatively quick to make. Gumbo is traditionally served over steamed white rice.

* 2 pounds okra, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 2 cups chopped canned tomatoes
* 1 cup diced onions
* 1 cup diced celery
* 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
* 1 Hawaiian chili pepper, diced
* 5 bay leaves
* 5 sprigs fresh thyme
* 2 quarts shrimp stock or water
* 2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
* 1/4 cup minced parsley
* 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions

A flavorful and nutritious gumbo

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium-high heat; add onions, Hawaiian chili pepper and celery. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add okra and cook 5 minutes more. Add tomatoes, stock, bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes. Start rice if using.

Add shrimp and cook for 10 minutes. Place rice in the bottom of six bowls, add gumbo and garnish with parsley and scallions.

Makes six servings.

KauaianFresh.com

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