By Lia Jonsson

Lots of Okra!

Some folks love okra. Others of us like it in gumbo, but otherwise okraknow little about it and really don’t know what to do with it.

But when the okra in the Aquaponic system is thriving, it seems time to learn about it. As it turns out, there’s a lot to learn! This relative of hibiscus (that explains the pretty flowers), cotton and cocoa thrives in tropical settings, and is among “the most heat and drought tolerant” plants in the world, according to Wikipedia, explaining why it is thriving right now in Green Phoenix Aquaponics systems.

Summer’s heat has hit North Texas with a vengeance again, after a short break with almost fall-like temperatures. The sun and high temperatures have affected our harvest somewhat – not as many cukes and tomatoes, but the okra is loving it! Just remember to pick the okra when it’s young and tender.

Okra also has numerous health benefits, contains vital nutrients, is full of fiber and beneficial for the gastrointestinal tract, and is recommended for pregnant women because of its high folic acid content. It helps regulate blood sugar, can aid in weight loss, and stimulates “good” bacteria much like yoghurt. Its “slime” is used to thicken soup, stews and sauces, notably gumbo; it can also be used as a conditioner for damaged hair. Okra seeds are also a source of important vegetable protein.

Cooking with Okra

Even with air-conditioning, spending time in the kitchen cooking doesn’t seem so appealing, but using up that okra, along with some of the bell peppers and little cayenne peppers seemed like a good idea. The search for recipe ideas led to Pinterest, where the result was a vast selection, complete with full-color pictures of what to do with okra. Many of them sound delicious, and worthy of trying.

By the way, and worth mentioning: The entire plant is edible. You can cook the leaves and stalks much as you would dandelion or beet greens, or add the raw leaves to salads.

Gumbo, With a Lighter Presence

harvestI don’t know about you, but the mellow, slightly spicy flavors of gumbo sound good no matter what time of year, calling up images of the Gulf, fresh seafood, lazy days and good times. Traditional gumbo, however, takes time and a little bit more effort than seems necessary during these high-temp days.

So, here is a lighter, quicker version and one that can easily be adapted to our week’s harvest: Okra, a couple of onions, yellow bell peppers, small squash, tomatoes and cayenne pepper, as well as the ever-present basil.

This Gumbo Soup, without the rich roux of classic New Orleans recipes, is light enough for a summer supper with a simple green salad, yet hearty enough to be satisfying. And it has the added advantages of needing minimal preparation time and using up our stock of just-picked goodies. What could be better?

Making It Personal

We tinkered with the recipe just a bit, adding some of our young crookneck squash and substituting tomato bouillon for most of the water, but leaving out the tomato paste. We served our gumbo with basil-flavored pearl couscous, rather than rice, as a summer variation. Garnish? Fresh basil, of course, in addition to the green onion. And it was delicious.

Okra RecipieFor some more gumbo recipes, visit Emeril Lagasse’s website – you’ll find several variations, including this one with a variety of seafood!