Ladyfingers (a.k.a. okra) lovely for lunch

Published 11:59 pm Friday, July 31, 2009

They are called ladyfingers in other parts of the world, but we call it okra in the South.

Okra is of West African origin. Its cognate in Igbo, a language spoken in Nigeria, is kùrù. In various Bantu languages it is called kingombo this is the origin of its name in Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French— gumbo or gombo. The plant is said to have originated in the Ethiopian Highlands. It seems to have been introduced to the Americas by ships plying the Atlantic slave trade. Its presence is recorded in Brazil in 1658, Suriname in 1686. A record of it in the Carolinas is found in 1627. It was grown as far north as Philadelphia by 1748. Thomas Jefferson noted it was well established in Virginia by 1781.

Okra is easy to grow in our hot climate and is tolerant of drought. Not many bugs eat it either. It only needs to be picked often enough to keep it producing. Cut small pods of 2 to 3 inches every other day. It is best if eaten within two to three days so growing it provides a fresher source than buying it. It can be added to the flower garden (it is in the hibiscus family) as the bloom is quite nice and there is a red variety to add more color.

I grow the cow horn variety from saved seed. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange lists an Alabama red as well as a burgundy.

We have a lot right now and I keep looking for different ways to serve it.

If you are grilling try this version:

Grilled Okra

30 pods

1 Tbsp. Canola oil

1 ½ Tbs. Paprika

1 tsp. celery seed

Juice of half a lemon

Place the washed okra in a mixing bowl. Add oil, paprika, celery seed and lemon juice and toss until pods are well coated. Place on the grill away from the flame, rotate until tender, about five minutes.


Dipping Sauce

Cheesecloth or coffee filter

1 (32-oz.) container plain low-fat yogurt

¼ cup chopped fresh basil

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

½ tsp. minced garlic

¼ tsp. sugar

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

Line a wire-mesh strainer with three layers of cheesecloth or one (12 cup) coffee filter. Place strainer over a bowl. Spoon yogurt into strainer. Cover and chill 24 hours. Remove yogurt, discarding strained liquid.

Combine strained yogurt, basil, and next five ingredients. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Serve as a dipping sauce with the grilled okra.

Hilde Gabriel Lee in All About Food gives this recipe from coastal Georgia and the Carolinas where rice was grown. I did this recipe the other evening, and it’s a hearty one dish meal with the bacon, okra and rice. But delicious!

Limping Susan

(Serves 4-6)

4 strips bacon, diced

½ pound okra, cut into ½ inch rounds

1 cup long-grain rice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

2 cups beef broth

1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

Salt and pepper, to taste

Sauté the bacon in a medium saucepan over medium heat until crisp. Add the okra; stir and cook one minute. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then cook covered, over low heat until the rice is tender, about 25 minutes. Remove the cover and continue cooking until the mixture is fairly dry.

My new favorite cookbook author, Donald Link, gives this tasty okra and tomato dish. I used it for a pot-luck dinner and it was a hit. This dish calls for chicken broth but water or vegetable broth can be used. It is great alongside any roasted meat or served with rice, which is what I did.

Okra and Tomatoes

(Serves 4)

1 tablespoon bacon fat

½ medium onion, thinly sliced

1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

3 plum tomatoes, diced

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

4 bay leaves

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 ½ cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups trimmed okra, cut into 1½ inch slices

In a medium skillet, heat the bacon fat over medium-high heat. Add the onion, jalapeño, and garlic and sauté for two minutes.

Add the tomato paste, tomatoes, salt, pepper, bay leaves, rosemary, red pepper flakes and vinegar. Cook for 10 minutes, until the tomatoes start to break down and form something of a paste, then add the broth and simmer for 10-15 minutes longer over low heat.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the okra and sauté for about 5 minutes. Stir the okra into the tomato sauce, raise the heat to medium, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Taste for seasonings and adjust as desired.