When we think Okra (a.k.a. Lady Fingers, gumbo, okro, ochro, bhindi and bamies), we think of Nawlins (New Orleans for those who have never been). But where did this little marvel actually come from?
Okra is found in its wild state on the banks of the Nile around Ethiopia, and was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians by the 12th century B.C. Its cultivation spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The seed pods were eaten cooked, and the seeds were toasted and ground, used as a coffee substitute (and still is). Gumbo derives from a West African word for okra, suggesting that gumbo was originally made with okra. And gumbo is a reinterpretation of traditional African cooking. West Africans used the vegetable okra as a base for many dishes, including soups, often pairing okra with meat and shrimp, with salt and pepper as seasonings.
Okra came to the Caribbean and the U.S. in the 1700s, brought by slaves from West Africa, and was introduced to Western Europe soon after. In Louisiana, the Creoles learned from slaves the use of okra (gumbo) to thicken soups and it is now an essential in Créole Gumbo.
Okra is actually incredibly healthy despite its unappealing reputation. Okra is low in calories. One cup of raw okra only has around 30 calories. And in that low-calorie cup in a whopping 66% RDA of Vitamin K! Okra is also high is calcium, fiber, vitamin C, protein, folate, manganese and magnesium.