From December onwards in the Sydney garden, it is harvest time for Lady’s Fingers or Okra. It is an anticipated time for us because okra is so different from all the other garden vegetables, having its own distinctive flavour and soft, yet crunchy, texture… Like a lady’s fingers, they are long and slim, soft but firm.
So, how does okra grow? Think corn! It becomes a tall, thin plant, By the end of autumn, the plants reaching up to two metres in height. They are best grown, close planted, in a small patch, twelve plants being more than sufficient for our needs. Prepare the patch well with plenty of organic fertiliser before planting your seed.
|Buds, blooms and young okra|
An added attraction of the okra plant is its beautiful primrose, hibiscus-like flowers.
When the plants begin to bear their delicious horns, you will need to inspect and harvest your plants every day. From flower to fruit is less than one week. Harvest the horns small. Any horns left for just one day too many will become hard and woody, unsuitable for cooking. However, if you do happen to miss a harvest, leave the horn in its place, because the plant will continue to bear new ones. Any ‘overgrown’ horns can become your seed source for the next season.
|Ready for the harvest and collection of next season's seed|
Now, while you are collecting enough okra for the next meal, they will keep very well in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator for four or five days.
The cool winter of Sydney will inhibit the flowering and fruit setting of your okra plants, and frosts will kill the plant. In tropical climates, okra is apparently a perennial crop!
Okra has a myriad of uses. So, how do we use it in the kitchen?
In its simplest application, we slice it to make a delicious stir-fry with garlic, chilli, juice from a kasturi lime, and a little belachan (Malaysian prawn paste). However, we also use it whole in soups and curries. Occasionally, we have used okra as one of the vegetables in a Hakka Chinese dish called Yong Tau Foo. However, our favourite is Sambal Bendi, which I included in our recipe section last week… check it out!
Beware, when cooking okra, especially when working with the sliced vegetable. You must cook it quickly over high heat and with a little lime or lemon juice. Otherwise, it will produce a slime or goo, which can look a little unsightly. I wonder whether this is the reason that you rarely see okra on the menus of restaurants…??