The geographical origin of okra is not certain, although it could be traced back to west Africa, Ethiopia and south Asia. It is a common plant that is cultivated in  both tropical, subtropical as well as warm temperate regions all over the world. The plant is well recognized and valued  because of its edible green seed pods which are very nutritional. Basically, the plant is known in many English-speaking countries around the world today as “ladies’ fingers or ochro” . It is also regarded as a flowering plants which belongs to the mallow family.

According to research, the first use of the word “okra” is in the United States roughly around the year 1670. It was said to have possibly derived the name from the Igbo word ọ́kụ̀rụ̀. In Spain however, the word okra which is otherwise known as ocra is also used. Although it is believed that the word was derived from the Igbo ethnic group during the trans-atlantic slave trade era or perhaps due to the use of the word by the United States. In India however, the word okra is known by a different name “vendakkai or vendakkai”

Okra is a perennial specie which is often cultivated as an annual specie in temperature climates. It often grows to roughly about 2 meters, that is 6.6 feet tall. Okra is closely related to other species such as hibiscus, cocoa, as well as cotton. It’s leaves are about 10 to 20 centimeters long and broad. Not only that, the plant is also palmately loved with about 5 to 7 lobes. The flowers are about 4 to 8 centimeters in one diameter with about 5 white to yellow petals which often has a red or perhaps purple spot located at the base of each petal. It has spherical pollens with about 188 microns diameter. The fruit itself is a capsule which is up to 18 centimeters, that is 7.1 centimeter long with pentagonal cross-section. It contains a lot of seeds as well.

A very interesting thing to note about the plant is that it is a drought tolerant vegetable specie in the world and can tolerate soils with intermittent moisture as well as heavy clay. But frost can however damage the pods.

When due for cultivation, the seeds are usually soaked overnight prior to planting to a depth of about 1 to 2 centimeters, that is 0.39 to 0.79 centimeters in. The most preferable soil temperature for planting okra is at least 20°C, that is 68°F in readiness for germination which usually occurs between six days for soaked seeds and about three weeks. Enough water is required for seedling. The seed pods grows rapidly to become an edible vegetable. It is however important that the vegetable must be harvested immature which is usually within a week after pollination.

Okra comes in two varieties: the green okra as well as the red okra. The green okra is the most common one to people. The red okra on the other hand is richly endowed with the same flavor and nutritional benefits as the green okra as the only difference is the color. However, when cooked, the red okra pods becomes green.

 Okra can be affected by some diseases which might render it harmful for consumption. The most common of these diseases is the verticillium wilt which often causes the yellow and wilting that happens to the leaves. Other diseases that affects the plant may include leaf spots, root-knot nematodes as well as powdery mildew which occurs in dry tropical regions.

Nutritional values present in raw okra Soup:

-Energy 138 kJ (33 kcal)

-Carbohydrates 7.46 grams

-Sugars 1.48 grams

-Dietary fibre 3.3 grams

-Fat 0.19 grams

-Protein 1.9 grams

-Vitamin C 28%23 mg

-Vitamin E 2%0.27 mg

-Vitamin K 30%31.3 μg

-Calcium 8%82 mg

-Iron 5%0.62 mg

-Magnesium 16%57 mg

-Phosphorus 9%61 mg

-Potassium  6%299 mg

-Zinc 6%0.58 mg

-Water 89.6 grams

It is amazing how much nutrients can be present in okra. This is why it is considered an essential vegetable. Okra can be used to make varieties of healthy dishes and one of it is the Nigerian okra soup.

Nigerian Okra Soup Recipes

One of the quickest and easiest Nigerian soups to prepare is okra soup. Although some people argue that preparing Nigerian okra soup requires a lot of work which ranges from cutting the two vegetables used in preparing the dish to the choice of carbohydrate to accompany the dish. It is quite aggreable but once the vegetables are ready, cooking it takes no time at all.

Ingredients:

The following are the ingredients necessary for preparing Nigerian okra soup

1. 5 cups (that is 250g) okra

2. 3 cooking spoons red palm oil

3. Beef: Best cut, cow triple (shaki), fish: iced fish (either Titus or Mackerel), dry fish as well as stock fish.

4. 1 handful crayfish

5. Pepper

6. Salt to taste

7. Onions (optional)

8. Vegetable: Nigerian pumpkin leaves or African spinach (either fresh or frozen)

9. 3 stock or boullion cubes.

 Preliminary Activities

1. About two hours before preparing the soup, boil the stock fish for at least 20 minutes and leave then leave in the pot with the hot water to soak. Note that some types of Nigerian stock fish do not need too much soaking, hence, the soaking depends on the type of stock fish you purchase.

2. Carefully cut the okra fingers into tiny little bits. Note that the tinier you cut the okra, the more it will draw. (So therefore, decide how you want yours) in order to achieve this, all you need to do is to make a few vertical cuts followed by horizontal cuts on the okra fingers.

3. Grind the crayfish together with the dry pepper.

4. Wash the pumpkin leaves or African spinach ( whichever is your choice of vegetable) and cut into tiny pieces. Note that if you will use frozen spinach, first defrost before cutting into tiny pieces.

Cooking Directions:

If you will be using cow triple (shaki) for the soup, first of all wash properly and then boil till it is done. Add enough water because the soup needs to be thick. The thicker, the better. Once that is done, add your already soaked stockfish and dry fish to the cooked shaki. There is no uniform amount of time as the amount of time it will take to cook shaki depends on the cooking appliance utilized. As some appliances are much more faster than others. So therefore, the best way to confirm this is by taking a bite.

Once you are certain that the shaki and the stock fish  are well done, add your beef as well as your onions and stock cubes and cook till done. Once it is done, add the iced fish and cook as well till it is fully prepared.

In another clean pot, pour your red palm oil and heat the pot till the oil dissolves if it is congealed. Once that is done, add the diced okra and start frying. This is the first step to the drawing process. Add some meat stock from time to time till you notice the okra has started to draw. This process should take nothing less than 5 mins to avoid over or under cooking the okra.

Now add your vegetables and stir properly. Also add all the meat, fish, crayfish, pepper as well as salt to taste. Then stir properly.

Cover the cooking pot and allow it to simmer for some time. Your delicious okra soup is ready to be served.

Where to purchase okra recipes

The above listed ingredients are very easy to find. They are also very affordable. You can buy them at any supermarket or local market around you. Prices may vary depending on the amount you will be needing.

Important things to note:

1. Do not use cow triple, beef, dry fish, iced fish (Mackerel/Titus) and stock fish at the same time when preparing the okra soup recipe. But if by all means you can, use all as they add to the flavor. But if otherwise, okra soup can be deliciously prepared with just fish, that is Mackerel or Titus, and the taste will equally be wonderful. Therefore, it is not necessary you go to an extreme length to prepare the dish.

2. Using onions is optional because while some people cannot bear the smell or perhaps the taste of onions in okra soup, others are unable to do without it as to them, it is part of the ingredients that gives it its unique taste.

So therefore, you are free to add and subtract ingredients as you please. It is however necessary to note that the minimum ingredients that make an okra soup are:

1. Okra (obviously)

2. Palm oil

3. Beef , iced or dry fish

4. Crayfish

5. Pepper

6. Salt to taste

7. Vegetable

8. Seasoning

These ingredients cannot be substituted for another as they are the basic ingredients that gives it the wonderful taste.

Pumpkin leaves otherwise known as “ugwu”  are considered the best for okra soup but for those residing outside Nigeria, getting pumpkin leaves may be hard to come by so you can use spinach as a fine alternative. Make sure  the spinach is properly washed and frozen as this works better than the fresh and leafy spinach as far as the okra soup recipe is concerned.

It is best to serve your okra soup with any of these energy giving foods

1. Eba (Garri)

2. Cassava

3. Semolina

4. Amala

5. Tuwo Shinkafa

6. Pounded Yam.

Health benefits

1. One major health benefit of Nigerian okra soup recipe is that the dish is rich in nutrients

Okra is a vegetable that is richly endowed with some basic nutrients. Apart from being a great source of vitamins such as vitamin C and K1, it also contributes largely to your overall immune function. Okra is low in calories and carbs as the vegetable is more endowed with fiber and protein which makes it unique as protein is very essential for the body.

2. Another important health benefit of Nigerian okra soup is that the dish contains beneficial antioxidants

With okra being the major ingredient in the preparation of Nigerian okra soup, it is therefore rich in many antioxidants that benefit your health. What are antioxidants?  Antioxidants are compounds which are present in most foods that helps to fight off damage from harmful molecules which are known as free radicals. Okra is however rich in essential antioxidants such as polyphenols as well as vitamin A and

3. And yet another important health benefit of Nigerian okra soup is that the dish may help to lower heart disease risk

Since high cholesterol level is closely associated with a great risk of heart condition, okra contains a gel-like substance which is known as mucilage. Mucilage binds to cholesterol during digestion which therefore causes it to be excreted rather than absorbed into the body

4. Another important health benefit of okra soup is that the dish may help to lower blood sugar

You already know how important it is to maintain a healthy blood sugar level as high blood sugar can lead to prediabetes as well as type 2 diabetes. Research has however shown that eating okra or okra extract can help to decrease blood sugar levels

5. And yet another important health benefit of okra soup recipe is that the dish can be easily added to your diet plan

Following the directions on how to prepare, we can easily say that okra is quite easy to prepare. It is however important that when purchasing okra, you should look for the smooth and tender green pods without brown spots or dried ends. It is also important that you store them in the fridge for up to four days before cooking. Having seen that the major ingredient (okra) used in preparing the dish is low in calories, why can’t it be added to your diet plan?

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