instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Recipes and Stories

30 June 2020: Lowcountry Summer in a Bowl

Shrimp with Tomatoes and Okra

 

Three quintessential ingredients of a lowcountry summer table are tomatoes, okra, and local creek shrimp. And nowhere is the eclectic blending that defines our cooking better illustrated than when those three are combined in the pot.

 

Though they've found their way into gardens and pots the world over, tomatoes are believed to have originated in Central America. Okra, while now common in the Atlantic Rim's African Diaspora and in Southeast Asia, has its roots in Africa. And although dozens of varieties of shrimp are found in every part of the globe, our local brown creek shrimp have a unique sweetness thanks to the grassy marshes where they've thrived for thousands of years.

 

When all three come together in the same pan, however, their sum speaks solely of the coastal plains of the South and subtropical Caribbean,  Read More 

Be the first to comment

11 July 2016: Butterbeans and Okra

Butterbeans and Okra

One of the loveliest concepts in all of the South’s summer cooking is the practice of spreading small, baby vegetables on top of a pot of slow-cooked pole beans so that they steam during the last few minutes that the beans are cooking. Most of us have had tiny little new potatoes cooked in this way without knowing that the concept has never been limited to that one thing. Read More 

4 Comments
Post a comment

2 August 2015: Fresh Okra and Tomato Salad

Southern cooking that you may not know about: raw okra and tomatoes weaving their combined magic in the salad bowl.

The union of okra and tomatoes in the pot is an inspired marriages that happens to be one of the great foundations of Southern cooking. From vegetable soup and gumbo to that soul-comforting triad of okra, onion, and tomato simmered together into a thick stew that can be served forth as a side dish, or over rice as a vegetarian main dish, or as the base for heartier main dishes with meat, poultry, and fish or shellfish stirred into the pot. Read More 

Be the first to comment

7 August 2014: Mama’s Pickled Okra

Mama's Pickled Okra, a classic taste of Deep South Summer

Cleaning out my fridge — not just tossing out spoiled leftovers but taking everything out, sorting through and purging half-empty jars of condiments that are no longer really usable, wiping down the ones that were still good, giving up the lame hope that my sour dough starter, untouched for more than a year, might still be alive, and scrubbing every shelf and bin—is always both cathartic and depressing. But it was especially so after the two years of neglect that had been the fallout of three back-to-back book deadlines. Read More 

Be the first to comment

29 July 2014: Really Fresh Okra and Tomatoes—Okra and Tomato Salad

Fresh Okra and Tomato Salad

One of my favorite summer snacks is a handful of small, raw okra pods — eaten as is, without so much as a speck of salt or pepper. When very young, small, and tender, okra has a delicate flavor that knows no equal. And contrary to what you might expect if you’ve ever chopped or sliced it for a gumbo, or tried to eat it when it was overcooked, the raw pods are not in the least gooey or sticky, but are as crisp and refreshing as a chilled cucumber. Read More 

Be the first to comment

28 July 2012: Okra and Tomatoes

Classical Southern Okra and Tomatoes, with small, whole okra and fresh tomatoes

One of the great flavor combinations of a Southern summer is the masterful pairing of okra and tomatoes. This near perfect mating was not discovered down here, nor is it limited to our corner of the globe, but we’ve certainly laid claim to it and made it peculiarly our own.

 Read More 
1 Comments
Post a comment

25 July 2011: Okra Season

Gumbs—A West India Dish, or as we refer to it in my house, Karen's Okra

One of the things I miss the most about living away from my family is my mother’s garden, especially at this time of year, when almost everything is coming in at once. There are tomatoes gathered only after they’re ripened to perfection, and green beans, squash, and okra, all of which are best when picked while young and a little immature.

There are compensations to living here in Savannah, of course: here it’s peak shrimp season, and thankfully there’s now a growing local farmer’s market whose vendors share my mother’s care with produce. This past weekend, one of my favorite farmers had okra no bigger than my thumb, gathered just the evening before. It was so beautiful and perfect that it was hard not to buy more than we could eat over the weekend.

There’s nothing else to do with okra like that but let it shine on its own, something that’s rarely allowed to happen. It’s a pity, really, because young, tender okra possesses a wonderful, refreshing flavor that is easy on digestion (and souls) wearied by summer’s dead heat. It’s a quality Mary Randolph clearly understood when she gave us:

Gumbs—A West India Dish.

Gather young pods of ocra, wash them clean, and put them in a pan with a little water, salt and pepper, stew them till tender, and serve them with melted butter. They are very nutricious and easy of digestion.

— Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife, 1824 *

Mrs. Randolph’s melted butter was prepared in a pan continuously shaken over a larger basin of simmering water. Barely melted to the consistency of a beurre blanc, it was used to finish just about every vegetable that went to her table.

Cooking is never static, even for historians. Whenever we take a recipe into our own kitchen, we adapt it to suit our tastes and cooking habits. While working on her definitive commentary on Mrs. Randolph’s work, my mentor Karen Hess did just that with this lovely recipe. Since she and her husband, John, once lived in Egypt, there’s a distinct hint of the Middle East in her version with its garlic and splash of fruity olive oil. Sometimes she made it with butter, but she once told me “we like it best served the next day, at room temperature, and for that, of course, olive oil is best.” Indeed.

Karen’s Okra

Whenever she offered it cold, there were always thick wedges of lemon on hand.

Serves 4

1½ pounds very fresh okra pods no more than 2 inches long
1-2 large cloves garlic, lightly crushed and peeled
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
Lemon wedges (optional)

1. Wash the okra under cold running water, gently rubbing to remove fuzz. Trim the cap or stem end but leave the pods whole.

2. Put the okra in a heavy, lidded skillet that will hold it in one layer. Add a splash (about a quarter of a cup) of water, the garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, a liberal pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Cover and put it over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes, until the okra are tender but still bright green, shaking the pan occasionally to help the okra cook evenly. Don’t let the liquid evaporate completely; add a spoonful or so as needed to keep the moisture from drying completely.

3. Pour the okra and any “sauce” that remains into a shallow serving bowl, remove and discard the garlic, drizzle it with fresh oil, toss to coat with sauce, and serve warm or at room temperature, passing lemon separately, if liked.

When we’re having it cold, I deviate very little from Karen, but when it will be eaten straight from the pan, my own version is equally eclectic, influenced not only by Karen, but also my mother and another mentor, Marcella Hazan.

To serve four, you’ll need all the ingredients for Karen’s Okra, using only one clove of garlic and substituting for the oil the best butter that can be had. Again, wash the pods under cold running water, gently rubbing to remove the fuzz, and trim the cap or stem end, leaving them whole. Crush, peel, and mince the garlic fine.

Put the okra in a heavy, lidded skillet that will hold it in one layer. Add about a quarter of a cup of water, the garlic, a liberal pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper, and a generous lump of butter. Cook it following Karen’s method, shaking the pan occasionally and adding a spoonful or so of water as needed. Off the heat, add another pat or so of butter and shake the pan until the okra is coated. Serve warm.

* No one is really sure, by the way, how okra, the seedpod of an African hibiscus, migrated from Africa to our continent, but it turns up in the Americas wherever there are Africans in the kitchen, from Virginia to the West Indies all the way to Brazil. And Mrs. Randolph’s name for her recipe, while by no means definitive documentation, is suggestive of the route it may have taken into our hemisphere. Read More 

4 Comments
Post a comment

18 July 2011: Okra Soup

Okra Soup, a summer staple in Savannah. Photography by John Carrington

One of the key foundations on which so much of Southern cooking is built is the rather magical pairing of okra with tomatoes. From Maryland to Florida, Virginia to Texas, whether it's simply the two vegetables simmered together, a thick gumbo, or a complex pot of vegetable soup in which they're joined by everything else in the garden, the combination is practically universal.

 

Small wonder: this union is one of those perfect marriages of flavor and texture, so perfect in fact that we tend to forget it was unheard of as little as five centuries ago. Tomatoes are of course native to Central America and okra is African; for thousands of years they were quite literally a world apart from one another.

 

Exactly how they came together is murky territory for historians. Read More 

4 Comments
Post a comment