Okra is ooey gooey goodness

Okra is the “other” green you want to incorporate into your diet. The goo is good, trust me.

Comfort food is a familiar word with everyone. Every culture has its own stash of culinary richness that incites a nostalgic or sentimental solace at the first taste. The dish is usually associated with an aromatic herb, a rich butter, or a savory, salty and even sugary goodness. But what about okra? It is such an underestimated dish that is cherished in many cuisines from Africa or the African diaspora.

“Okra was a mainstay in my house growing up, but people always gave these puking noises when they talked about okra,” said Kaia Shivers, founder of Black Farmers Index. “My mother is from Louisiana, so things like okra and pumpkin are important staples. On a cold Sunday, she’d make chicken stewed in okra and tomatoes.” 

Okra was one of the vegetables transported to the United States during the slave trade. Carried by Africans and planted in American soil, in places like Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina, okra rooted itself into the culinary traditions there. But, like every other culture, it is prepared differently in various regions. For Shivers, okra was often in stews like gumbo.

“Baby, that thought of okra and chicken or it floating like a beautiful flower in my mama’s gumbo brings such fond memories. When my grandmother moved to live with my mom in Los Angeles, my mom started cooking okra more frequently again because my grandmother wanted it in her meals. With that, my mother went back home through her cooking pots.”

Another important fact of gumbo is its nutritious value. Often overlooked or cooked out of the okra is the soluble fiber that comes out as a slippery goop. “I don’t eat fried okra. I don’t like it,” says Shivers. “If your okra don’t have no slime, do not put it on my plate. My grandmother loved that texture. You eat that slimy okra and run right to the bathroom for a good cleaning.”

Through this Q&A we are going to look at okra through the eyes of  Andrea Fosuhene, MPH whose parents immigrated to the United States from Ghana. Though Shivers and Fosuhene grew up thousands of miles apart, okra holds a special place in both of their culinary histories. Ark Republic spoke with Fosuhene about her love affair and nutritional knowledge of okra. 

What is your earliest memory of eating Okra? And who made it?

My earliest memory is probably when I was 10. It is also my favorite comfort food too! As a kid, I would have so much fun eating it because of the viscosity the okra gave the stew. My dad was the one to prepare it, since he was the designated stew maker. My mom made the soups. I have had it with soup before, but okra with stew was always my preference.

What was the name of the dish? Also was it the main dish or a side dish?

Actually there’s no special name. Just Nkruma Nkwan (pronounced en-QIne) or okra soup or Nkruma Abomu or okra stew. Okra was usually mixed into the main dish. I typically have okra mixed with goat stew served with a cornmeal ball known as Dorkunu or Banku.

How was it cooked?

First it’s boiled, then crushed, then boom, a slimy goop that can be added to a stew or soup!

Can you describe the texture?

The texture is definitely a slimy, ooey gooey goodness. 

Do you like Okra’s slimy texture?

Yes, I LOVE it! When you’re a kid, playing with food is inevitable. This made me love the dish all the more. It’s tasty and fun to eat.

Is folate, also known as B9 important to pregnant women? If so, why?

From my understanding, folate promotes cellular growth and production of red blood cells. Without the combination, the development of the fetus is stifled and increases the likelihood of birth defects of the brain and spine. 

Also how does the mothers intake of folate or B9 benefit her child?

A supplement is a start, but as my mom would emphasize, ‘ANYTHING GREEN!’.

Are there side effects from having too much folate in your diet?

From my understanding, too much of any mineral or vitamin in the system is eventually expelled. So I do not believe there is a side effect unless there are unknown or rare cases that have yet to be publicized.

Are there side effects from having too much folic acid in your diet?

Now folic acid is the synthetic version of folate. Although helpful, I’ve read that too much can negatively affect the detection of B12, which also helps with maintaining red blood cells.

. . . .

As I wrap up my conversation with Fosuhene, I realize that comfort food doesn’t always have to be processed or salty, it’s something that brings back good memories, that reminds you of home. After seeing okra through her eyes, I ask myself, “Does okra remind me of home?”

Kjersten Jacson covers news, education and Black farmers.

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