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Food: Okra, a storied vegetable

Angela Shelf Medearis & Gina Harlow
THE KITCHEN DIVA
Okra
The Kitchen Diva |

OKRA AND SHRIMP HUSH PUPPIES

These hush puppies are the perfect side dish for baked, broiled or fried fish, or it makes a wonderful appetizer when served with a spicy dipping sauce. You can keep the fried hush puppies warm in a 225 F oven for up to 15 minutes.

Ingredients:

1 cup self-rising yellow cornmeal mix

1/2 cup self-rising flour

1 cup medium-size raw shrimp, chopped

1/4 cup finely diced onion,

1/2 cup red or green bell pepper, chopped finely

1/2 cup celery, diced finely

1/2 cup fresh, chopped okra or frozen and thawed cut okra

1 1/2 teaspoons Creole or Old Bay seasoning

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup beef broth

1/2 cup carbonated water

Frying oil

1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Stir together the cornmeal mix and flour in large bowl until combined. Sprinkle shrimp, onion, bell pepper, celery and okra with 1 teaspoon of the Creole seasoning and combine to coat with the spices. Add the shrimp and vegetable mixture to the cornmeal mixture.

2. In a small bowl, stir together the egg, broth, water and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning. Pour the egg mixture into the cornmeal mixture using just enough to moisten the cornmeal. Let stand 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Pour oil into a Dutch oven to a depth of 4 inches; heat to 350 F. Drop batter by level tablespoonfuls into hot oil, and fry in batches for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes, flipping hush puppies over and frying for another 2 minutes on the other side until golden brown.

4. Drain on a wire rack over paper towels; sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

There are few vegetables with a more storied past and debatable reputation than okra. This slender green pod comes from the lovely yellow flower of the seemingly impervious Hibiscus Esculentus plant. While this hardy crop would flourish almost anywhere, okra is grown mainly in the South. Those who’ve eaten okra love it, and when separated from it, for reasons of geography or season, miss it.

Known to some as ladies’ fingers, bhindi, bamia or mostly commonly as gumbo, which is its West African name, the okra plant is believed to have arrived in North American with the African slave trade. It’s possible that slaver traders or the captives themselves stowed away seeds to bring to the New World.

Okra was cherished by both slaves and slave owners. Southern agricultural journals, dating back to the mid-1800s, account that it was widely enjoyed and eaten frequently during the growing season in a variety of preparations.

The Cajun and Creole cuisines of Louisiana resulted from a New World fusion of foods from the diverse cultures of its early settlers. It was in Louisiana that okra gumbo, the famous dish named after its key ingredient, was born.

Okra was a predominant ingredient in the regional stew of vegetables and chicken, shrimp or crawfish. The gelatinous liquid in okra helps to thicken gumbos and soups. Slaves also used the seeds as a coffee substitute and the leaves for medicinal purposes.

Relatively easy to grow, okra tolerates high temperature and scant water, and also is nutritious. Okra is an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamins B-6 and C, as well as folic acid, potassium and calcium. Okra also contains properties to help with diet-related illnesses like diabetes. The gelatinous interior found in okra helps to slow the absorption of sugar into the blood by forming a kind of gel coating inside the bowels. This slows down the absorption of food from the gut, evening out the peaks in blood glucose that occur after meals.

Even with all its health benefits and historical acclaim, okra has been controversial from its arrival in North America. There are those refuse to eat it or who think it’s a suspicious-looking pod of slimy repute. This is because of the gelatinous substance okra releases when cut.

Proper selection and cooking methods will eliminate that truly minor detail and showcase its delicious flavor. When choosing okra, it’s important to look for small, tender pods, as thick, long pods tend to be tough. Okra should never be sliced until immediately before cooking. This help to prevent some of its gelatinous interior from seeping out.

Once you’ve tried this delicacy properly cooked, okra will steal your affections, as it has for so many others who salivate at the mere mention of its name. My recipe for Okra and Shrimp Hush Puppies showcases the best qualities of okra in a historical Southern recipe that is packed with Creole flavors.

Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her website is http://www.divapro.com. To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, Like Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook and go to Hulu.com. Read Gina Harlow’s blog about food and gardening at http://www.peachesandprosciutto.com. Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis.


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