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Shrimp and Okra Stew

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Sunday Dinners comes to us from our own chef/photojournalist/farmer/father figure Tom Hirschfeld, featuring his stunning photography and Indiana farmhouse family meals.

Today: Develop a loving, long-term relationship with okra -- starting with this easy, almost-one-pot recipe.

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Some lucky people grew up eating okra; there are even families with rich okra histories that they pass on from generation to generation. I am not one of those lucky people.

More: Here's everything you need to know about okra. 

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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.

More: Learn how to make better soups, stews, and chilis before the temperature drops.

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).

Shrimp and Okra Stew

1 pound shrimp, raw, peeled, and deveined
2 cups okra, tops removed and sliced about 1/8-inch thick
2 ounces bacon, diced (I prefer double-smoked bacon)
Salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon garlic, sliced thin
1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme, minced
2 teaspoons flat leaf parsley, minced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Jasmine rice (I use Lundberg Farms)
2 1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Tom Hirschfeld

Tags: okra, shrimp, southern, stew, recipe, sunday dinners