In Puerto Rico we call it guingambó (geen-gahm-BOH) or variations on that word, which seems to derive from the original African term for it. You may know it as okra (which may be another African derivative) or ladyfingers for the elegant shape of its conical pods. Usually bright green, there are gorgeous red varieties too (the red color doesn’t really hold up in cooking, unfortunately). It’s available year-round in hot places, but in the Northeast, it is a summer to early fall vegetable.
It is said to originate in Abbysinia/Ethiopia/Eritrea and made its way across Africa and eventually to the Americas where it was particularly embraced in the Caribbean and Southern — especially French –U.S. There were loads of Africans imported against their will to those regions but okra came with them and it happens to grow well there. And they had to do a lot of the cooking so they incorporated it in creative ways.
Gumbo, that deservedly beloved stew cook-up from the New Orleans area,was thickened with okra and probably gets its name from that same African word that sounds like guingambó, although you might think that “gummy” has something to do with it too. After all, that gooey stuff inside called “mucilage” definitely brings things together. Today it is gaining popularity amongst non-Southern, non-Caribbean people and that is a good thing! You can bread and fry it, which is on my list to try soon, and when my CSA farm has some I will eat it raw and love it up, but the way I adore it is stewed.
My dad claimed not to like okra for the usual reason: TOO GOOEY! But then I brought some red okra home fresh from an organic farm in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico (Productos Sana) and he went at it and changed his mind. Funnily enough, my late maternal grandmother (Puerto Rican) used to make a delicious stew. My dad (Aruban), in his experimenting, inadvertently ended up creating the same dish with nearly the same flavors as she used and I am very happy!
The recipe is below, but first, a few valuable links for food history nerds. Continue reading