As a young child growing up in a South Indian Brahmin household, it was not surprising that I was reared to be a vegetarian, save for an odd serving of eggs, once in a while. We were considered a “progressive” brahmin family because my father ate eggs and my mother cooked them. But eggs aside, our diet was completely vegetarian with each meal having generous servings of vegetables. As my mother set the table for the family meal everyday, my father would sit at the head of the table, (with our beloved Labrador drooling at his feet for slyly dropped tidbits) and regale us with stories about any topic that struck his fancy that day.
The stories would meander through ancient history, Hindu epics, current events and life in general. Sometimes as he spun his yarn, he would suddenly cast a stern eye at whichever one of his daughters who was not eating her veggies and break off mid-sentence to lecture about health benefits of the veggie of the day.
One of those lectures was about Okra or “ladies finger” as it is called in India. My dad, with no real scientific study to back his proclamations, other than old, regurgitated information from his elders, would inform us solemnly that if we wanted to be smart and do well in math, we needed to eat Okra. Okra, according to my dad, was brain food!
Turns out my dad wasn’t too far off in his surmise.
Okra is known for its high vitamin B6, fiber, calcium, and folic acid, which helps prevent neural tube defects in developing fetuses. A serving of Okra contains only 25 calories, so if prepared in a low-fat recipe, it is an incredibly healthy addition to any meal.
In addition, the mucilage and fiber found in Okra helps adjust blood sugar by regulating its absorption in the small intestine. It helps reabsorb water and traps excess cholesterol, metabolic toxins and surplus bile in its mucilage and slips it out.
It is an ideal vegetable for weight loss and is a storehouse of health benefits provided it is cooked over low flame to retain its properties. This also ensures that the invaluable mucilage contained in it is not lost to high heat. Okra facilitates the propagation of good bacteria referred to as probiotics. These are similar to the ones proliferated by yogurt in the small intestine and help biosynthesize Vitamin B complex.
Now, I know that fresh Okra is somewhat difficult to source in the US, so many people resort to buying the frozen Okra. My curried Okra recipe is made from fresh Okra. I would encourage you to try to locate the fresh Okra for this recipe since frozen Okra invariably becomes slimy when cooked.
The key point to note in cooking Okra is learning how to wash it, how to slice it thin, and how to cook it under slow fire. The recipe itself is very simple but a few missed steps can give this dish an entirely different taste. So try to follow the recipe carefully and you will soon be able to get your family to enjoy this very yummy, low fat, healthy “brain food”!
Here is how you make this:
Wash the Okra thoroughly before chopping. Now cut the tops and bottoms off and chop into thin slices – see picture. Do not cut the slices too thick and do not wash after chopping or it will get slimy. Set aside.
In a pan, heat olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. Wait for them to crackle and add the chopped Okra. Sprinkle salt, chili powder and turmeric powder. Reduce heat and roast uncovered on a slow flame until brown. If necessary, drizzle a few drops of oil around the edges of the pan as it roasts.