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In Praise of Okra

In Praise of Okra
July 2010
Savor the summer crop with advice from seasoned soul food chef Alluette Jones-Smalls

By July, okra pods are showing their fuzzy faces at farmers markets around town, but how many of us do anything other than slice them up and fry them as a supper side? Looking for a new way to incorporate the Southern favorite into summer menus, we turned to local soul food maven Alluette Jones-Smalls.

Born and raised in Mount Pleasant’s Old Village, Jones-Smalls has been serving what she calls “holistic soul food”—fare that’s local and largely organic—for some 15 years. She and husband Cliff ran Line Street Grocery & Grill and Patio Famous Tea Room on the peninsula, plus a St. Helena Island sandwich shop, before opening Alluette’s Café in 2008 and Alluette’s Jazz Café in 2009. “I’ve always used in-season produce—it’s the most delicious and nutritious,” she says. “And okra has been a soul food ingredient since slaves brought it to America, so I know lots of ways to cook it.”

An easy favorite is okra fried rice. “To prepare the okra, wash the pods well and slice them up into small pieces so that they’ll cook easily,” Jones-Smalls instructs. “Then sauté them with basil and any fresh vegetables you have on hand—I like tomatoes, sweet onions, and bell peppers, which will just be jumping out at you in July.” When the okra starts to get soft, add tamari sauce and cooked basmati or brown rice, and the result is “a comforting dish that’s totally satisfying to the palate.”

There are plenty of other ways to enjoy the versatile veggie as well. “Try frying the whole pod and dipping it in ketchup like a French fry, making a stew or gumbo, or sautéing slices to eat with fried shrimp or chicken or lamb that’s been baked or broiled,” she suggests. “As long as you cook okra soon after you get it from the farmer—don’t store it for more than five days—it’ll be delicious.”