Orignally published in Plough to Pantry.
My first experience with okra was in a roadside greasy spoon somewhere near Clayton, GA. It was slimy, greasy, tasteless and only good for playing tricks on tourists. Okra was not being taken seriously. I understand why some people never give it a second chance.
The second time I came across okra was at my wedding shower, where a thoughtful gift of Indian spices included a dried okra pod bought from a roadside farmer in Rosman, NC. The okra had been grown by his family for generations, and I now owned this small piece of his family’s heritage; it felt big.
I am now in the third season of growing okra from the seed I saved from that single pod. I call it ‘Rosman Wedding’ and it has inspired a love of this incredible and versatile crop. From fermented to fried, the immature pods are the most well known and used part of an okra plant, but Abelmoschus esculentus (esculentus translates as delicious) has way more to offer.
The flowers can be used much like squash blossoms; bake them stuffed with cheese or lightly batter and fry them. The leaves are a summer green with a similar mucilaginous quality to the pods. Dry and powder them for a homegrown thickener of soups and stews (or gumbo!), add them to smoothies for a good dose of fiber, or cook as you would beet greens and spinach.
The seeds take on an incredible nutty flavor when roasted and, once ground, can easily pass for coffee! Brewing the ground seeds as a tea offers a subtle, earthy tasting beverage, but the real potential is as a delicious gluten-free flour or okra-meal. The seeds can also be cold pressed for a greenish-yellow light and citrusy oil, not unlike olive oil.
If you plant okra seeds today, you could be preparing any of these southern delicacies in approximately 60 days!