botanical name: Hibiscus esculentus
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Origins and history
Also known under the name of Gumbo, the Lady's finger is a plant from Africa, spread in Asia and throughout the equatorial belt, to arrive in Italy, where strong demand from immigrant communities has favored the birth of crops in Sicily, island that holds the record in terms of production of Lady's finger, however, with the presence of other local realities, such as the Province of Latina. This plant, belonging to the Malvaceae family, the same as the cocoa and hibiscus, is widely used in traditional Indian cuisine, but also finds space in the recipes of some Balkan and South American regions: the fruit that it produces, a a pod similar to green chili peppers for color and shape, is harvested when still immature and has a flavor that vaguely reminds of asparagus. It doesn't require any special care, but a well-drained soil and a mild climate, thus lending itself well to growing in the vegetable garden or in pots, but it's good to know that this plant can reach significant heights: not by chance from its stem, very compact, you get a popular textile fiber.
Nutritional properties and benefits
Although it has been ignored for a long time by the Western kitchen, because it was often consumed by African slaves and then singled out as "food of the poor", the Lady's finger actually has a very pleasant taste and a highly respected nutritional content: it possesses a very low-calorie, which allows it to be a food present in many diets, the pod is rich in vitamins, especially a and C, and folic acid, valuable ally for pregnant women.
Like all plant foods, it's also rich in fiber, whose importance at the metabolic level is unquestioned, but strangely also has good levels of calcium, essential for healthy bones.
The presence of these nutrients attaches to Lady's finger many beneficial properties, such as the ability to soothe inflammations of the gastrointestinal tract, to help the immune system in the production of probiotics and, according to some studies, to facilitate the absorption of sugar and then of reduce the level of glucose in the blood.
The use of Lady's finger in cooking
In Indian cuisine, the pod is used in the preparation of Bhindi Masala, a fast but very tasty dish: after being cut into circular pieces, is mixed with a fried onion, cumin seeds and garlic, and seasoned with salt and chopped coriander : the whole, once cooled, is eaten with bread or croutons.
In Brazil, where it is called Quiabo, it's served as a side dish, usually combined with rice and beans, but it's often eaten as a complete meal: it's the case of Quiabo Refogado, or in humid.
The preparation also in this case is very intuitive: the pod, is rubbed with lemon juice, operation that serves to eliminate the natural thickener contained in it in the form of dross, which is not appreciated by everyone, is subsequently rinsed in cold, slow cooking water in the pan, together with olive oil, garlic and pepper, until it reaches a smooth consistency without losing shape. The Lady's finger is likely to be also used in soups, as the liquid contained in it, highly thickener, makes dishes more velvety and creamy liquid: indeed, in the Balkan countries, the pod is the basis of each vegetable broth.
This plant, however, is not only used in cooking: in Africa, for example, the children play with the sticky liquid contained in the pod, using it as an adhesive substance for constructions made of sticks of wood or to decorate the face with forms obtained from the plant itself. From the pod instead, cut and boiled in plenty of water, we obtain a viscous liquid which, combined with lemon juice, is great for preparing a hair mask that has the ability to remove grease and invigorate the scalp, especially appreciated by the fairer sex: by the way, the fruit of this plant is called "lady fingers", due to the tapered shape and smooth skin, are a reminder of the hand, or rather say, of a young noblewoman.