Native to Africa, okra is known to have grown along the Nile in the 13th century, when Egyptians found that cooking it with grains would give the vegetable a firmer texture.
Okra has made its way around the world into various cuisines, including Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, South-East Asian, Japanese and Indian, where it is the key ingredient in the fried vegetarian dish sukhi bhindi.
The slave trade brought okra from Africa to the US, where it became an important ingredient in Creole and Cajun cooking, acting as a thickening agent in the famous New Orleans gumbo (stew of okra, tomato, chilli and seafood, chicken or pork). Similarly, the slave trade facilitated the introduction of quimbombó (okra stew with plantains and pork) to Cuba.
When buying okra, choose young, small pods (large ones can be stringy) that are firm and not discoloured (okra bruises easily).
While many recipes for okra involve slow-cooking, the recipes here are all about quick cooking, so the okra remains crisp, creating lighter dishes perfect for the warmer months.