Southerners are well-versed in the virtues of cooking with okra. In that part of the country, okra is pickled, breaded, fried, roasted and gumboed. This fuzzy, long-stemmed vegetable can be a culinary mystery to those who had one unfortunate experience with it, never to go near it again. To prevent your children from having the same experience, try interesting and super-quick ways to serve okra. No matter how it’s cooked, it’s a fine nutritional source, even if it looks a little strange on the plate.
If vegetable nutrition were a race, okra would get a ribbon. Just a 1/2 cup of cooked okra has 2 grams of soluble fiber, which aids in the lowering of cholesterol, directly impacting heart health. Growing bodies and minds need the vitamins and nutrition the little pods carry, such as vitamins A, C and B6, as well as folic acid, calcium and protein. If your kids look quizzically at you across the dinner table when you first introduce okra, and you can't convince them it's an off-world plant brought here by space aliens, remind them that it’s not only tasty, but it helps their brains, bones and bodies grow, too.
One of the primary reasons that people shy away from okra is because of the texture it can take on when cooked. Okra secretes a thick juice that becomes a delightful thickening agent for traditional gumbos or a vegetable stew. A foolproof way to reduce that juice is to fry it. Tradition dictates that you try fried okra at least once as it shows off the vegetable's crisp-tender texture. Chopped okra is breaded with a spicy flour-cornmeal mixture and then fried in a hot skillet. In mere minutes, you can transform your grandmother's deep-fried original into a flash-fried okra in heart-healthy oil, but do not use copper, brass or iron cookware with okra, as the vegetable will turn black. Serve the tasty nibbles with store-bought or reheated "oven-fried" boneless-skinless chicken breasts and a cucumber-onion salad tossed with a creamy dressing. Pour tall cool glasses of sweet tea to make your meal a true Southern sensation.
When your night is full of homework help and laundry folding, take the weekend prior, or the night before, to have all your ingredients ready to go for the next night’s dinner. Pull out diced tomatoes, minced garlic and sliced okra, sauté for five minutes and then pour over an open-faced cornbread muffin. When cornbread is involved, your kids might be more inclined to give the okra a bite. Try a variation on okra and tomatoes by combining sautéed okra with a can of stewed tomatoes, plus peppers, beef bouillon, and either blackened or Cajun seasoning. Pour the steaming dish over reheated brown or white rice.
Use Your Leftovers
If your Southern heart has you whipping up regional favorites for your family, take five minutes to sauté your okra with a little sweet, white onion, and then stir it into reheated shrimp and grits, as okra is a natural complement to shellfish. For another quick meal, stir it into leftover mixed vegetables and then microwave the mixture with a can of tomato-basil sauce to make a modified ratatouille. Okra also fits right in on an antipasto platter for dinner. Lay out a selection of cold cuts, cheeses, baguette slices or whole-wheat crackers, pickled or breaded okra, and any other veggies you have on hand. Not every meal has to be a four-course affair — balanced and healthy are the keys.
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