In Season: okra

Okra has been a part of Southern culture for generations: mixed in gumbo, fried to a crisp or stewed with tomatoes and served over rice. It’s a good source of fiber, vitamin C, calcium and potassium, and a 1/2-cup serving (if you don’t fry it) has only 31 calories.

Junia De Pina of Mena’s Farm in northwest Atlanta serves okra dusted with flour and fried, cooked with rice and chicken into a stew, or sauteed with boiled green beans and seasoned with cilantro, mint, paprika, onion, garlic and black pepper.

She grows okra along with potatoes, cucumber, zucchini, beans, onions, herbs and “a little bit of everything” in her three-quarter acre garden. Four years ago, she had broken her leg and was looking for something that would keep her active in her back yard. She began growing vegetables just as she had back home in Cape Verde islands off the west coast of Africa.

A year later, she was selling extra vegetables from a booth at the Grant Park Farmers Market, and now she sells at the new Westside farmers market as well.

She grows Clemson Spineless, a 1939 All-America Selections winner that’s probably the most popular okra for the southeastern United States. A cup of okra seeds went into the ground once the soil warmed to over 65 degrees. By the end of June, De Pina was harvesting pods to take to market. She likes to pick them when they’re no longer than four inches, which means she’s out there harvesting at least every three days. Bigger pods don’t taste as good; customers know that and search out the smaller pods.

She finds okra easy to grow as long as it has lots of sun.

Georgia okra is available until November or when the first frost kills the tall, tough plants. A member of the hibiscus and cotton family, okra blossoms are a beautiful yellow with maroon centers.

If refrigerated, freshly picked okra will keep about a week. If you have a bounty of okra, freeze it by blanching the okra, whole or sliced, in boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes, and then immediately cooling.

Tabla’s Kurkuri Bhindi

People will say they don’t like okra, but fried okra? That generally gets a more positive response. Fried okra may be a Southern staple, but it’s served around the world. Indian restaurant Tabla in Midtown Atlanta serves this version, “kurkuri” for “crisp” and “bhindi” for “okra.” Owner Sandeep Kothary says, “In Rajasthan, the state in India where I’m from, okra is very popular as it grows well in the desert environment. The crispy okra combined with tangy masala makes this dish an irresistible appetizer at Tabla.”

The okra is thinly sliced, lightly floured and quickly fried. The spice mix elevates this from good to addictive. Chaat masala can be found at any Indian grocery or the Buford Highway Farmers Market.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/2 red onion

Vegetable oil for frying

1 1/2 pounds okra

Salt, chaat masala and chili powder, to taste

In a large bowl, whisk together flour and cornstarch. Set aside.

Use a mandolin to slice onion as thinly as possible. Set slices aside.

In a Dutch oven, heat oil to 350 degrees.

Use a mandolin to slice okra as thinly as possible. Toss okra in flour mixture and shake off any excess. Fry okra until crisp, about 1 minute. Do not crowd pan. Remove crisp okra from oil and drain. Strain off any okra seeds and continue frying until all okra is cooked. Sprinkle fried okra with salt, chaat masala and chili powder to taste. Toss with sliced onion and serve immediately. Makes: 5 cups

Per 1/4-cup serving: 68 calories (percent of calories from fat, 51), 1 gram protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 4 grams fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 4 milligrams sodium.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.