Comfort Food

Comfort Food

Okra Makes Me Happy!

I remember distinctly the first time I tasted okra.  My mother made excellent vegetable soup, but on rare occasions she would fix a quick Saturday lunch of sandwiches and canned soup.  We were in the middle of a big bathroom remodel on this particular Saturday, and she and Daddy were busy doing that work.  Mother made a quick lunch, and because she had accidentally purchased two cans of Campbell’s Chicken Gumbo Soup (instead of vegetable soup), that is what we had.  She was a little bit alarmed because it had okra in it, and she was sure Daddy wouldn’t like it.  When I asked what that little slice of green seeded vegetable was, Daddy told me it was okra and that I should eat it because I would love it.  Oh my!  I did love it and so did he!  From then on, when Mother could find the soup on the shelf of our small-town corner grocery store, she bought it!

Okra is certainly vintage in my estimation!  That Campbell’s soup hit the market in the mid-1940s.  Okra was cultivated by Egyptians a few centuries earlier, in the 12th century B.C.!  We know that okra came to the Caribbean and to the United States in the 1700s, brought by slaves from Africa.  Those slaves have influenced American cooking in enormous ways, and they taught the Louisiana Creoles that they could thicken soups with okra because of the sticky, thick juice in the vegetable.

Okra is sometimes called gumbo, and most of us know that Gumbo is a great recipe made with okra.  In the Congo, the word for okra was quillobo and the Portuguese created a word quingombo.  According to an article in Wikipedia, that is how we came to the use of the word gumbo.

Whatever name we choose to give it, okra has become popular world-wide.  We used to expect it to be on menus only in the southern region of the United States, but now we find fried okra on restaurant menus in lots of regions.  That is delicious, but I really enjoy okra prepared in many other ways.

I learned a few tips about using okra many years ago.  Buy small to medium sized pods.  Okra is used for making rope in some countries and if you want to eat rope, but big sized pods.  You won’t be able to chew them because of the strong fiber in them.  It is like chewing on toothpicks!  I’ve learned that from experience!

If you freeze okra pods whole, and slice them later while they are still frozen, the sticky juice won’t be sticky!  They will still help thicken your pot of soup or Gumbo, but the bite of okra itself won’t be as sticky!

When the pods are very small, I don’t even take the stem off.  The stem is as tender as the pod.

I’m sharing two recipes today and both are comfort foods for me!  They are healthy eating!

Okra and greens can be made with your favorite greens.  If you aren’t crazy about greens, you can make it with fresh spinach or with finely chopped cabbage.  I love greens, so this recipe is made with collard greens.  If you think the only way to prepare greens is to cook them all day in a crock pot, you are missing something.  You are cooking delicious broth that way, but I think the greens lose their flavor and nutrients.  Try your greens my way!

Collard Greens and Okra

3 slices of bacon
6 cups of washed, stemmed and sliced greens.
½ a yellow onion, sliced
½ a green bell pepper, chopped
As much okra as you’d like!
Bacon grease, salt, pepper and greens seasoning

Greens are so popular these days, there are several prepackaged spice combinations for seasoning them.  If you cannot find that, create a mixture of garlic powder, mustard powder, paprika and red pepper. 

If bacon grease is not in your diet, I’m sorry!  You can use your favorite cooking oil instead, but you lose a little flavor.

Fry the bacon until it is crisp.  Remove the bacon and crumble it. Caramelize the onion and bell pepper in the bacon grease, add the okra (sliced or halved lengthwise) and continue to cook for a few minutes until the okra begins to soften.  Add the sliced greens and stir fry until the greens are limp.  I stop cooking at this point and add the crumbled bacon and the seasonings.  The onions and pepper add nice flavor; the okra is crisp tender; the greens are not mushy … they have a nice bite to them.

Shrimp and Okra Stew

3 cups of sliced okra
1 pound of peeled, de-veined shrimp
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
A handful of cherry or grape tomatoes
3 cups Vegetable or fish stock
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon garlic paste
1 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning blend
Several grinds of black pepper
Salt to taste

Saut√© the onion, bell pepper, celery and okra until the vegetables re crisp tender.  Add all the other ingredients, except the shrimp.  Let the stew come to a gentle boil and drop in the shrimp.  When the shrimp turn pink, the stew is done.  Serve this with rice, pasta or your favorite grain.

This post is part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetables project.  If you'd like to see similar posts, just click the menu tab.  I'll be sharing this with a couple blog parties, so make sure you check out my list on my sidebar. Enjoy!

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