Learning to Appreciate Okra


Photo by .j.e.n.n.y./Flickr CC

Okra is so misunderstood. It truly is more versatile and delicious than its reputation allows. The growing season in Mississippi is long and hot, so many vegetables have a brief debut during the summer months. Okra, mustard greens, and collard greens seem to be around longer than most.

I am of the school that you cannot have a decent seafood gumbo without okra (in the South, gumbo recipes have divided families and caused many a divorce, so I will give you all my thoughts on gumbo when the weather cools down).

You have to trust me on this: If it is prepared correctly, you will like it.

A summer Sunday meal of fried chicken would not be complete without cold sliced homegrown tomatoes, field peas, rice and gravy, and a dish of okra stewed with Creole tomatoes (with or without shrimp). It just would not be right to overlook one of the best gifts summer has to offer. Okra is easy to pickle and, like most things edible in my part of the country, it has found its way to the deep fryer and has won more hearts battered and fried than stewed. You have to trust me on this: If it is prepared correctly, you will like it. I wish I had something to compare the texture and taste to. All I know is the seeds offer texture and flavor.

Don't get me wrong as I talk about the traditional use of okra--it is quite versatile. I think okra is one of the best additions you can make to a green curry with coconut milk and shrimp. I use okra as my main vegetable and love the sweetness of yams in a green curry. I have also braised it along with my pot roast with sweet carrots, turnips, and new potatoes.

Not only is okra delicious, it is also decorative. I have used it in summer floral arrangements, and okra is so adored in the South that it was chosen as the logo of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans. We cannot all be wrong about okra.

Stewed Okra with Shrimp & Tomatoes

Serves 8

• ¼ cup Olive Oil
    • 1 cup Diced Yellow Onion
    • 6 cups Fresh Cut Okra (cut bottom off and cut into ½ inch rounds
    • 4 cups Diced Fresh Tomato
    • 1 cup Water
    • ½ cup White Wine
    • 4 Slices of Fresh Lemon
    • 1 cup Diced Green Onion
    • 2 tbs. Fresh Minced Garlic
    • 2 tbs. Minced Fresh Parsley
    • 2 teas. Fresh Thyme
    • 3 teas. Fresh Basil
    • ½ teas. Dry Oregano
    • 2 teas. Salt (or to taste)
    • 1/2 teas. Crushed Red Pepper
    • 1/2 teas. Black Pepper
    • 2 tbls. Salted Butter
    • 5 cups Peeled, De veined Shrimp (21-25 ct. per pound)
    • 1 tbls. Paul Prudhomme's Blackened Seafood Seasoning Mix
    • 6 cups Cooked Rice (white or brown)

In heavy 4 qt. saucepan add olive oil over medium heat and let oil get hot. When oil is hot add diced onion for 2 minutes and stir until onion begins to get a bit of color to it.

Add okra and cook for 6 to 8 minutes before adding tomatoes. Add tomatoes, then add four slices of lemon and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove the lemon slices and add green onion, parsley, thyme, basil, oregano, salt, red pepper, and black pepper. Cook for another 15 minutes.

In a separate sauté pan add 2 tbls. butter add the blackened seasoning and sautee the shrimp for 3 minutes. The idea behind this is to partially cook and season your shrimp so they stay firm in your okra stew.

When you are ready to serve this dish, heat your okra and tomatoes and toss your shrimp into your okra mixture. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes until very hot. Serve over rice.