Have you considered growing okra this year? It’s time to start planting your garden, or if you live in a zone higher than 7, you may be in the planning stage. One of the easiest and most prolific vegetables to grow is okra.
Growing Okra: Nutritional Value
Okra is also often overlooked for its nutritional value. It is a prized source for dietary fiber. Other nutritional benefits include:
- Vitamins A, C, K, B6,
Another great aspect of growing Okra is how prolific it is. It can also thrive when neglected. It’s a perfect addition to any garden plan.
How to Plant and Harvest Okra
It’s time to plant once the frost danger has passed and you can do successive plantings.
Okra will grow in many types of soil. For best results, use fertile soil that is well-drained and enriched with nutrients found in home-grown compost. If you don’t compost, you can purchase bags to add to your soil.
Okra thrives best when grown in full sunlight. It can provide shade for less sun friendly crops, such as lettuce.
Soak the seeds in a jar filled with warm water. Let soak overnight before planting to boost seed germination. Seeds will split open slightly.
Sowing Okra Seeds
Sow seeds a half inch to 1 inch deep every 12 to 18 inches. Seeds germinate within 2-3 days. You can leave plants or thin to 2 feet apart. The plants grow fast, tall (3-6 feet) and are wide with a branching out of 2 feet or more.
Okra matures between 50 and 65 days and produces until the first frost in the fall. Harvest when the pods are two to three inches long for tenderness. Some varieties, such as Burma Okra, can be harvested when the pods are much longer. Since it is so prolific, you don’t need a large track dedicated to okra. A 50-foot row will typically yield 35 pounds of pods.
Preserving Your Harvest
You can preserve okra with several preservation methods. These include:
- Freeze: You can freeze okra. Cut round slices, dust with cornmeal/flour and freeze. Once frozen, vacuum seal and return to freezer. You can also freeze whole pods.
- Can: Canning is another way to preserve okra. It can then be added to soups and other dishes. If you like vegetable soup, add sliced okra rounds to a soup mixture then can.
- Pickled okra: Just like cucumbers, you can pickle okra. Pickle whole pods for great taste.
- Fermented okra: You can ferment okra, just as you can other vegetables.
Favorite Ways to Serve Okra
There are several ways you can serve fresh okra.
Fried okra is a popular Southern dish. Traditionally, okra is cut into thin rounds. Fried okra is easy:
- Dust with flour (Ziploc bags are great for this)
- Dredge through egg (use a fork to mix)
- Then into another Ziploc bag filled with cornmeal.
These fry up quickly and are traditionally cooked in a skillet with very little oil. Each piece is turned to allow the coating on each side to brown. Salt and serve immediately.
*Some Greek recipes fry the whole okra pods in a batter.
Traditional succotash is a mix of corn, tomatoes and okra cooked into a stew consistency. The okra and tomatoes are sliced and cooked with the corn. Salt to taste. Some people like to add onions to the mix.
This famous Louisiana recipe makes okra the centerpiece since it is cooked long enough to tease the sugars to release and seep out of the okra. This is important to the dish since this slimy looking juice is what thickens the gumbo stew.
Avoid the Slime
If the slime part of okra in some recipes isn’t appealing, you can reduce this reaction by pre-cooking the okra in a sauté pan. Quickly sear both sides of the okra – careful not to burn – and then add it to your dish.
Plan for Okra
This year, make sure you leave a little space for a few okra plants. It will soon become a staple in your pantry and freezer as one of the most cost-effective foods you can grow and preserve.