Okra: a Brazilian cuisine’s favorite

Mucilaginous, gummy, slimy: these are all words used to describe the contents of the okra pod, which contains numerous small seeds in a gooey, sticky substance. It divides people’s opinions, but one thing is for sure: okra is rich in nutrients, has a low glycemic index, and high concentration of fibers. It contains the following minerals: potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, and zinc; in addition to vitamins A and B1.

Okra is the fruit of the okra tree (scientific name “Abelmoschus esculentus L Moench”), which belongs to the “Mavaceae” family, the same as mallow and hibiscus. The okra tree can reach 3 meters in height, with elongated and fibrous fruits measuring 10 to 25 cm and white seeds. During its germination process, the okra tree blooms. The okra grows inside these flowers, along the stalk’s entire length.

Originally from Africa, by the 19th century, the use of this plant was widespread in the American continent. Today, okra is present in the cuisine of India, Southeast Asia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East, Mediterranean Europe, South and Central America, and the southern United States. In the Americas, most recipes combine ingredients and techniques from Native American, African, and colonial cuisines.

In Brazil, it is part of the country’s traditional cuisine and is served at lunch or dinner, siding basic foods of the local diet, such as rice, beans, and meat. When we talk about typical dishes with okra, two Brazilian states stand out: Bahia and Minas Gerais. In Bahia, okra is the star of caruru—okra cooked with dried shrimp and seasoning—that is an ingredient of the famous acarajé. The most traditional dishes from Minas Gerais are chicken and meat stew with okra. Another very usual dish is fried okra with liver steak, served as a snack in bars—our botecos.

Okra is famously slimy when cut into. If well prepared, it can be delicious. That slime is actually mucilage, a gelatinous substance that facilitates the seedpod to retain water. If the idea is to get rid of it, it is very simple: when cooking, add any acidic ingredient (tomatoes, lemon juice, or vinegar) and the result will be a less slimy dish. Another tip is to rinse and dry it thoroughly before cooking.

Now that you got to know all its details, it’s time to learn some recipes with okra:

Grilled okra
Take medium-sized whole pods, brush them with a little olive oil, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Grill them on high heat until the pods begin to brown on each side and serve them hot with a generous squeeze of fresh lime.

Fried okra
Cut the okra into thin slices and fry it with lard or butter. You can’t get much simpler than that!

This traditional recipe from Bahia combines okra, dried shrimp, peanuts, and various spices. Click here for the full recipe.

Chicken with okra
A typical dish from Minas Gerais, this recipe pleases the most diverse palates. Click here for the full recipe.