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This week's pick: My Mom’s Okra Soup
I don’t like okra, but I do like this soup. It’s an old, cheap favorite from childhood, and most people will eat it, even if they fish out the okra bits, like I do. The ham bone adds a meaty richness to it that makes it filling, and the vegetables add a bit of bulk and sweetness to the broth.
As for okra itself, it originated in Africa, and was brought over to the U.S. by enslaved people in the 18th century. It is grown in hot regions around the world, including the southern U.S. You can buy it fresh, but probably not in the Midwest, where I live. Frozen is just fine for this recipe, which is a gumbo, or stew, using okra both as an ingredient and thickener. (Do not use canned okra. The texture of the soup will be ruined and the okra will be gooey.) Okra can be slimy, and I don’t love it fried or in almost any form, but tens of millions of people disagree with me, and you may be one of them.
Okra soup/gumbo “must haves” vary wildly, but in our family, okra and tomatoes are a must, as are the ham bone, bacon and onions. I think some diced celery and peppers sautéed with the onions might add to the savoriness of the soup, but as you can see, it’s not in the recipe. I also think a cup or two of diced ham in place of the ham bone would be just fine.
Over rice, with a salad, this would feed four people very easily, with leftovers. The rice will change its soupiness into more of a stew, but it’s still good. My mom, a South Carolina native, made this for us all the time growing up.
My Mom’s Okra Soup
Four 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes, chopped (Don’t substitute diced tomatoes)
1 ham bone
3 strips of bacon
2 medium yellow or white onions, chopped
1 pound okra (fresh or frozen) trimmed and sliced into half-inch pieces
2 cups corn (fresh or frozen)
2 cups lima beans (frozen)
In a large pot over medium-high heat, sauté bacon. Add onions and cook until onions are translucent. Discard bacon (or eat it, like me). Stir in tomatoes and add ham bone. Cook on low heat for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the ham bone from the soup and add okra. Cook okra for 20 minutes and then add lima beans and corn. Continue cooking on low for another 20 minutes or until the okra and lima beans are tender. Serve over long-grain rice, if you’d like.
(Vintage image is a botanical drawing of okra, source unknown.)