That's where it wound up in a survey of the top 10 fruits and vegetables conducted by the specialty produce industry.
It's "a surprise in my perspective," said Robert Schueller, of the largest specialty distributor, Melissa's Produce.
Basic to Indian cuisine and southern gumbo, okra is actually not a vegetable. "Botanically, it's a flower," Schueller said. "Seeds put it in the fruit category."
The chief challenge is to counteract its notorious sliminess. Indian cooking teacher and author Julie Sahni does this by frying the okra pods whole (slicing makes sliminess more likely).
In a recipe for braised okra with tomatoes, onions and spices (in the photo at the top), she places the pods in a single layer in hot oil, fries them without stirring for a minute, then continues to fry them, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.
Next, she cooks them in a mixture of well-fried onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and spices until tender. This is a northern Indian dish, common in Indian restaurants. The recipe is in her book, "Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking" (William Morrow, 1985).
In the photo, Sahni's okra is paired with rice colored by the No. 3 winner in the produce survey, fresh turmeric root (above). Turmeric becoming this popular is even more surprising than okra's win. "The smoothie culture has gotten onto this," Schueller explained.
Primarily used in Asian cuisines, fresh turmeric can also be added to soups and stews as well as smoothies and herbal teas.
Only a couple of slices will provide a lot of color. The advantage of fresh over dried is that fresh turmeric does not give off the powdery, dusty aroma and flavor that can result from an overdose of ground dried turmeric. Tasted raw, it's a little like ginger root but not so pungent.
The rice in the photo was cooked with three thin slices of turmeric root, then seasoned according to a technique used at Agra Cafe in Silver Lake. There, cumin seeds are fried until browned, then stirred gently into the cooked rice. If you do this, use ghee or oil. Butter will burn.
Fresh turmeric is perishable and will mold quickly. It's best to freeze it, then use as needed.
The other winners in the produce survey were chestnuts (9); Hatch chiles (8); dragon fruit (7); tree-ripened mangoes (6); Brussels sprouts (5); passion fruit (4), and Persian cucumbers (2).
The first place went to young coconuts (above). This reflects how popular coconut water has become. Canned or packaged coconut water ranges in flavor from nasty to fairly good. None can compare, however, to the water from a fresh sweet young coconut. Another advantage makes it a worthy winner. After sipping the water, you can scoop out and eat the tender flesh.