Some lucky people grew up eating okra; there are even families with rich okra histories that they pass on from generation to generation. I am not one of those lucky people.
I came late to okra — or at least my love for it did. Since I didn’t come from a family of okra-eaters, I always remained skeptical of the vegetable. My relationship with it was like that of boys and girls at an elementary school dance: standing at opposite corners of the room. It’s not that I didn’t like okra — it was that I had no idea what to do with it. I preferred to stay in my comfort zone and stick to eating green beans.
On a whim one summer, I planted a row of okra in my garden. And even though I thought I was too far north for this southern beauty to thrive, it did.
I thought that my feelings for okra would be nothing more than a summer crush, but I soon realized that the relationship had developed into a full-blown affair. The proof was in the number of times that succotash made its way to my dinner table — and for that matter, okra stewed with tomatoes, breaded okra, grilled okra, gumbo with okra, and okra with black-eyed peas. You get the point. That summer, I learned to look past okra’s faults — namely, its sliminess — and discover its inner beauty.
Okra is not a vegetable to be cooked al dente; it yearns for long, slow simmering, which makes it the perfect vegetable for stews. And, like onions, okra is wonderful caramelized and tossed in any vegetable medley.
If you have never cooked with okra — or even eaten it — this recipe for Shrimp and Okra Stew is the perfect place to start. This casual, almost-one-pot stew comes together quickly, and the addition of smoked bacon makes it hard not to like. Hopefully, your first date with okra will develop into a loving, long-term relationship (just like mine).
Shrimp and Okra Stew
If you have never cooked with okra, this recipe is a great place to start — and if you already love okra, then this a good recipe to add to your rotation. If you can’t find double-smoked bacon, regular bacon will suffice.
1 pound shrimp, raw, peeled, and deveined
2 cups okra, tops removed and sliced about 1/8-inch thick
2 ounces bacon, diced (I prefer double-smoked bacon)
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon garlic, sliced thinly
3 to 4 tomatoes, medium sized, peeled and crushed with your hand or diced juice with juices and enough water to make 2 cups
1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme, minced
2 teaspoons flat leaf parsley, minced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup Jasmine rice (I use Lundberg Farms)
2 1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1.Chop all of your ingredients before beginning to cook.
2. Place the rice into a heavy-bottomed, 3 1/2 quart enameled Dutch oven. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and the bay leaf.
3. Add the water and place the pot over high heat. Bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer and cover the pot with a tight fitting lid. Take note: the heat should be turned down to whatever the lowest heat setting on your stove is. Let the rice simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rice sit for another 20 minutes (I set a timer).
4. Meanwhile, cook the stew. Place a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and begin to render the fat.
5. Once the fat begins to release, add the okra. Season the okra with salt and pepper. Stir the okra as it cooks, taking note of the gelatinous strings that chase your spoon around the pan. Let the okra cook until the strands begin to dissipate and the okra becomes soft.
6. Add the garlic and red chile flakes to the pan. Cook until the garlic becomes fragrant.
7. Add the butter and let it melt, then add the shrimp. Cook the shrimp until it becomes pink, then add the tomato. Stir everything together to combine, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Stir in the thyme and half of the parsley. Let the shrimp finish cooking and the flavors meld, about 10 minutes. Add the rest of the parsley.
8. Serve the stew and juices over hot rice.