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).