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Tasty okra dishes

Published:Wednesday | April 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Rosalee Brown, Contributor

Okra, a relative of the cotton and hibiscus, is native to Africa but it is believed that it was brought to the Americas as food for slaves. Although a popular vegetable in Jamaica, some people attach strong emotions to okra - they either love it, like myself, or hate it, especially because of the slime.

As a child, my great-grandmother used to add okras to the pot just a few minutes before the cooking ended. I still continue this tradition and I make a delicious dish with codfish and okra, using a lot of okra and onions and a small amount of codfish. Although, as Jamaicans, we use it in many dishes, including a drink made popular in some areas by men for its supposedly aphrodisiac effect, we have not developed a popular dish.

Great for gumbo

Gumbo is another popular dish using okra. Gumbo consists of a flavourful stew served over rice. The stew is made from stock, the 'holy trinity' which consists of onions, bell peppers and celery and thickened with a lot of okras. Meats and shellfish can also be added to the stew. This dish is associated with the creole culture of New Orleans and is typically consumed in South Carolina and Louisiana.

It's nutritious too

Six okras only contain about 27 calories and 1.7g fibre (so it is filling while being low in calories). It has a small amount of protein and fat but is a good source of calcium, potassium, vitamin K, carotene (used to form vitamin A in the body) and is an excellent source of the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants are shown to be positively related to eye health.

Tips for using okra

Plant okra close to the kitchen as they mature quickly and must be reaped when tender.

Do not overcook.

When preparing okra in fish dishes, like codfish and onions, cook them until slightly tender. Remove from boiling water and stir them into the mixture at the last moment.

Add okra to rice and meat dishes fewer than five minutes before completion of the meal.

To retain okra's flavour, cook it whole, although they can be sliced for stews.

Okra can be blanched, apportioned, labelled and frozen for future use.

Rosalee M. Brown is a registered dietitian/nutritionist who operates Integrated Nutrition and Health Services; email: yourhealth@gleanerjm.com.