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Sat, March 23

Vary your veggies with okra

"Eat your fruits and vegetables." You've likely heard this directive since childhood. And, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), research shows it is good advice.

Diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and minerals, fiber and other substances that are important for good health. Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories, and are filling.

Many people, however, find that they get tired of the same old fruits and veggies. If that sounds familiar, the CDC recommends that you add some variety to your diet by trying new fruits and vegetables. One that is recommended is okra.

While not as easily found in the Southwest as in other parts of the country, okra is a fuzzy, green-colored, ribbed pod that is approximately two to seven inches in length. It is known by its rows of tiny seeds and slimy or sticky texture when cut open.

Okra was discovered around Ethiopia during the 12th century B.C. Seed pods were consumed cooked and the seeds toasted, ground and served as a coffee substitute. It eventually came to North America and you'll now see okra in African, Middle-Eastern, Greek, Turkish, Indian, Caribbean and South American cuisines.

Okra is a powerhouse of valuable nutrients. It's a good source of vitamin C, is low in calories, is fat-free and is available either frozen or fresh. When buying fresh okra, make sure that you select dry, firm okra. They should be medium- to dark-green in color and blemish-free.

Fresh okra should be used the same day that it is purchased or stored in a paper bag in the warmest part of the refrigerator for two to three days. Cold temperatures will speed up okra decay. Do not wash the okra pods until ready to use, or it will become slimy.

When preparing, remember that the more it is cut, the slimier it will become. Its various uses allow for okra to be added to many different recipes. Okra is commonly used as a thickening agent in soups and stews because of its sticky core. However, okra may also be steamed, boiled, pickled, sautéed or stir-fried whole.

Okra is a sensitive vegetable and should not be cooked in pans made of iron, copper or brass since the chemical properties turn okra black.


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