Cooking a Polarizing Vegetable: Okra

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Oh, okra! Whether used in gumbo or succotash, the little vegetable is either loved or hated. Jessica Harris, food and cultural historian, joins us with a look at the history and lore of okra, which first arrived in the United States in the 17th century and has graced the plates of Southerners and African American families ever since. She also gives us three recipes to try and convert even the most stalwart okra hater.

Click through for Jessica Harris' okra recipes

Basic Okra, adapted from The Africa Cookbook.
(serves 4-6)

  • 1 lb. fresh young okra
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  1. Wash, top and tail the okra, discarding any blemished or woody pods.
  2. Place it in a heavy saucepan.
  3. Add the water, cover and cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes or until the okra is fork tender.
  4. Add the lemon juice, stir, drain, and serve hot.


Salada de Quiabo -- Brazilian Okra Salad, adapted from Tasting Brazil: Regional Recipes and Reminiscences by Jessica Harris.
(Serves 4-6)

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 lb. fresh young okra
  • 1 tablespoon minced red onion
  • 3 small preserved malagueta peppers, minced
  • ¼ cup vinaigrette
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan.
  2. Plunge the okra into the boiling water and allow it to cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Then “shock” it by draining it and placing it into a bowl filled with ice & water.
  4. Drain it again, pat it dry, place it in a bowl with the remaining ingredients and toss well.
  5. Serve immediately

(alternatively, you may serve the okra atop a bed of shredded Boston lettuce)

Summer Southern Succotash
(Serves 6 to 8)

  • 6 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups fresh corn kernels
  • 1 lb. fresh okra, topped, tailed, and cut into ½-inch rounds
  • 1 habañero chile, pricked, optional
  1. Place all of the ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan and add 1½ cups of water.
  2. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and cook for 15 minutes until they are well mixed and cooked through.
  3. Remove the chile when the dish has the desired spiciness.
  4. Serve hot.



Jessica Harris


Jen Poyant

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.