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I heart okra 

Freestyle okra-tomato saute

Amid the bounty of late-summer vegetables, there's one that tends to get the short shrift, and her name is okra. In India, she's quite the lady's finger; in parts of West Africa, she's known as ngombo (which is how the gumbo got its name); and in the Middle East, she's got the beautiful melodic name of bamia.

These taut green pods get a bad rap because of the clear viscous substance (aka mucilage or slime) that is released from its white seeds when cooked.

I'm not gonna tell you how the slime acts as a natural thickener, which is revered among gumbo cooks, or how you can minimize the slime (don't overcook). Okra haters are a stubborn lot.

But what if I told you that slime is a friend to your heart and that okra acts much like oatmeal in lowering cholesterol? The mucilage is actually a form of soluble fiber, which slowly travels through the digestive tract, binding to cholesterol, much like a broom. A cup of okra contains a whopping four grams of fiber, which compares to the media-loving bowl of oatmeal (four grams for a cooked cup). Ever try to eat that much oatmeal in one sitting?

Below is just one way of getting to know your new pal, Okra. She's quite versatile, giving the cook all kinds of possibilities, be it boiled, steamed, fried, pickled or stuffed. A lover of acid -- tomatoes, lemon and vinegar are all suitable mates -- okra also plays nicely with garlic, which is music to my tastebuds.

So give a big shout-out to Miz Okra before she leaves town. Your heart will love you for it.

Freestyle okra-tomato saute:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced

1/2 sweet onion, diced (optional)

10 okra pods, tops trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch slices

2 medium summer-lovin' tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped

2 ounces white wine

Salt and pepper to taste

• Heat oil in a deep skillet (avoid using reactive pans such as cast iron or aluminum), and add garlic, jalapeno and onion. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to ensure the garlic does not burn. Add okra and cook for three to five minutes, allowing it to soften. You'll notice it turning bright green.

• Stir to combine ingredients and add tomatoes, followed by the wine. Allow mixture to come to a boil, then reduce heat and partially cover. Cook at a simmer for up to 10 minutes, until okra reaches desired degree of doneness.

• Season with salt and pepper, and eat by itself or over rice.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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