0kra (Hibiscus esculentus) is a vegetable and Louisiana recipe staple that was first introduced to the southern United States by African slaves in the 18th century, and has been cultivated in Louisiana ever since.
Cooks value the vegetable for its ability to help thicken soups and stews --a defining characteristic of traditional Louisiana gumbos.
As is true with a number of our less generally popular vegetables, many people fail to appreciate this one because they do not know how to use it. The first and commonest mistake that gardeners make is to let the pods become too old and tough before harvesting them. They grow very fast, and in hot weather will become unfit for use in less than a week from the time they start developing from the pollinated flower. The plants must be gone over at least every second day and the pods harvested when only three to five days old.
But how many non-Southerners are aware of this quirky vegetable with its slippery texture? Actually quite a few. In fact, okra is found in recipes around the world from the Middle East to India and is served most often with tomatoes.
From Africa okra was spread over North Africa, completely around the Mediterranean, and eastward. The absence of any ancient Indian names for it suggests that it reached India after the beginning of the Christian Era.
One of the earliest accounts of okra is by a Spanish Moor who visited Egypt in 1216. He described the plant in detail, as cultivated by the Egyptians, and stated that the pods when young and tender were eaten with meal.
Important Crop in South
Okra is rarely used "straight" except when fried with meal, just a little of it usually being cooked with other vegetables or put into soups and stews. Okra alone is generally considered too "gooey," or mucilaginous, to suit American tastes. In recent years, however, it has become an important commercial crop in certain localities in the South, where thousands of tons of the pods are grown for the large soup companies.
Okra is easily dried for later use. A little dried okra in prepared dishes produces much the same results as does the fresh product.
In some lands the seeds rather than the whole young pods are of most interest. When ripe the seeds yield an edible oil that is the equal of many other cooking oils. In Mediterranean countries and the East, where edible oils are scarcer than in our country, okra oil is no rarity.
The ripe seeds of okra are sometimes roasted and ground as a substitute for coffee. A close relative of okra, roselle, is used as a source of fiber for cloth. In Turkey, the leaves are used in preparing a medicament to soothe or reduce inflammation.
Okra can be used in crafts, as in the two pictures below:
"I did succeed in drying some okra by using silica gel and a microwave oven. I then painted the okra and used it in combination with polymer clay to make decorative lizards. They look especially good affixed with Velcro to a vertical surface (like a door or window frame, a mirror, or a flower pot). I "debuted" the okra lizards at a craft show this month, and they were quite popular."
You can see more at her web site: http://www.picturetrail.com/HEDGEAPPLECRAFT
Links for more information about Okra:http://plantanswers.tamu.edu/publications/vegetabletravelers/okra.html