While driving home today after a short break to mark Christmas and the New Year, I was suddenly filled with a craving for okra soup. Submitting to the craving, I reprogrammed my GPS to locate the nearest supermarket. Fifteen minutes later and armed with a bag of okra, I couldn’t help wondering if something in my subconsciousness had made a link between homecoming and okra thus triggering the powerful craving.
Which would make sense…as a child growing up in Nigeria, okra featured regularly on our menu and I have very fond memories of sharing plates of okra soup loaded with fish and other vegetables with my siblings.
Okro or Okra is a very versatile vegetable that is widely enjoyed in Africa and beyond. According to Wikipedia, its origins (Asian or African) are disputed, but what is undisputed is the fact that okra is a well-travelled plant! It goes by several names across the world, lady’s fingers being one of the most common names. It, is also known as Gumbo in parts of the Caribbean, Bamia in parts of East Africa, and Bhindi in parts of South Asia.
There are many different ways of preparing this soup across Africa, along with a host of differences in accompanying ingredients but around the coastal towns and villages of South-East Nigeria, the central variant consists of the holy trinity of okra, pumpkin leaves and onions, steamed with fresh and/or smoked seafood, and seasoned with as much or as little scotch bonnet peppers as dictated by one’s palate/bravery quotient for that day!
The hallmark of this soup is its slimy texture – which Nigerians refer to as “the draw”, and in fact, in Nigeria, this soup is sometimes referred to as Draw Soup. Some recipes maximise the “draw” of the soup as some people prefer to enjoy the soup thick and slimy. To achieve more draw or slime, just chop the okra finely. The finer the okra is chopped, the more slimy the resulting soup. For even more draw, chop finely, and then pound the okra.
My mum’s version of this classic soup is remarkably simple. The okra is chopped into large chunks minimising the sliminess of the soup – something my Anglo-Swiss husband appreciates greatly. I have paired my soup with steamed monkfish. The result – a healthy, tasty and fresh bowl of joy!
Season the fish with the paprika, fish seasoning and pepper. Pour some water into a pot and set a steamer in the pot, making sure the water does not touch the bottom of the steamer. Bring the water to boil over high heat.
Place the fish on a heatproof plate, and place this in the steamer. Cover and steam for about 8 minutes. To test for done-ness, insert a knife or thin skewer into the thickest part of the fish. The knife will pierce with little resistance and the inner portion will appear opaque when done. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the garlic and chilli pepper for 1 – 2 minutes. Add the onions and okra and fry for 4 – 5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the vegetables from burning or sticking to the pan.
Add the fish stock and transfer the steamed fish to your pan. Turn the heat down and allow to cook on low for an additional minute or two.
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