Okra: from Africa to My Microwave, and an Okra Succotash for All Tables

In July through September the okra displays at produce and farmers’ markets attract a veritable study in a cross section of peoples that make up America and its cooking: Japanese, Chinese, Southeast Asians and Asian Indians, Greeks, Turkish, African Americans, Latinos, Middle Easterners, all precisely selecting

Yogurt and medium size okra pods

the size pods desired for their dish: tiny ones for tempura and fritto misto, large ones for gumbo and pickling, medium size ones for Chinese and Indian stir fries or Mediterranean okra and tomato stews. It’s no wonder. Okra has an impressive resume as a world traveler. Setting off from its native sub-tropical Africa, it traveled east to the Arabian peninsula then took a turn north to the Mediterranean, Greece and Turkey. From there it forked east to India and other Asian countries and west to Spain and Portugal, then across the Atlantic to the American South. It was embraced everywhere it landed and could flourish because it is a prolific food crop amenable to warm, not too dry summers, and its pods readily fit into kitchens around the world.  Here’s a recipe that brings all that together in an American South-style succotash with okra instead of lima beans, Indian spicing, and virtually no heat in the kitchen. The recipe is adapted from The Well-Filled-Microwave, by Victoria Wise and Susanna Hoffman.

Okra succotash microwaved in a clay dish.

Serves 6

1 small onion, chopped into 1/ 4-inch pieces

2 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped into 1/2 –inch pieces

1/ 4 teaspoon cumin

1/ 2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon mustard seeds, lightly toasted for 3 to 4 minutes in a microwave or ungreased skillet

1/ 2 teaspoon unseasoned chili powder

1/ 2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/ 4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive or vegetable oil

1 pound medium-size okra pods, stems cut off, pods sliced into 1/ 2-inch thick rounds

3/4 pound potatoes, not peeled, cut into 1/ 4- to 1/ 2-inch chunks

1 1/ 2 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about  medium ears)

2  teaspoons cilantro leaves, for garnish

1 cup thick yogurt, for serving

1. Combine the onion, tomatoes, cumin, turmeric, mustard seed, chili powder, salt, pepper, and oil in a large microwave dish. Microwave uncovered until steaming, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the okra, potatoes, and corn, and stir to mix. Cover the dish and microwave until the potatoes are tender, 12 to 13 minutes. Sprinkle the cilantro over the top and serve right away, or at room temperature, or chilled, with the yogurt on the side.

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