by Stephanie Eyocko
“Make sure you grab enough wood,” my grandmere said, “we need enough to boil the yams.” Earlier that day, my grandmere had cultivated the yams, peeled them, and placed them in cold water that we transported from the well.
It was a half-day affair: okra soup and pounded yam–the most fulfilling of foods.
‘Okra’ is derived from the Twi word, nkuman, spoken on the Gold Coast. Slaves from Angola brought okra to the New World, calling it “ngombo,” phonetically similar to the American word: gumbo. A close relative of cotton, cacao and hibiscus, okra was one of the few crops slaves were able to bring with them from their communities in Western Africa. Bhindi bharta in south Asia, Kopé in Cote d’ivoire, Oupoukandja in Senegal, and Louisiana seafood gumbo, okra is found in many culinary cuisines of the world. It is typically in season from summer through early fall, and varieties range in colors from vivid green to deep shades of red and purple. Slimy, goo-ey, and most important delicious, it is a true delight.
As I was brainstorming the food that brings me comfort, I went to the grocery store–masked up and all–a total of 3 times. Once to my local Chinese grocer, once to the farmers market, and another to my neighborhood West African food store. All three times, I saw okra and walked away. Walking away because I knew, I knew the labor associated with Okra, but I also knew the comfort of putting your hand in pounded yam and dipping it into a bowl of warm, crayfish-y, okra soup that draws to the motherland. I finally went back the fourth time, and put some in my basket, making sure to place yam powder in there as well.
I did grab enough wood that day and my grandmother did make the okra soup I go back to often. A comforting mixture of palm oil, crayfish, dried fish, fresh fish, goat meat, and fresh spices, all simmered to perfection in our humble pot.
The recipe below does not have goat.
4 cups Okra (half slightly blended and half sliced- frozen works too)
1 Small onion minced
2 habanero pepper
3 Tbsp dried crayfish
1 cup Spinach
1.5 cups shrimp
1 fish of your choice
1 Dry Fish large
⅓ cup egusi
⅓ cup palm oil
1 Tsp Seasoning powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp hot chili
1 maggi cube
2 cups of water, divided
- In a medium –sized saucepan, fry fish seasoned with salt, smoked paprika, pepper and onions until fragrant.
- If using fresh okra wash the okra, remove the tops and tails, and slice into rounds.Blend half the okra to a coarse consistency or finely chop the okra into coarse consistency using a sharp knife.
- Place dry fish in a cup of hot water and let sit for five minutes.
- Add the ground crayfish, bouillon or Maggie and egusi into the pot of fried fish, cook for five minutes.
- Then add shrimp, cook for another 5 minutes and finally add a cup of water gradually.
- Add the spinach and stir in dried fish and its juices for about a minute or two.
- Add the okra and stir, very well. Access if you need an additional cup of water.
- Serve warm with Fufu of Garri (found in many western african food shops across the nation).
Cameroonian turned Texan, Stephanie Eyocko, is the Mixed Mag food Editor. She’s passionate about locally-grown food and locally-sourced stories.