Okra – a Love Hate Relationship


Okra is one of those black and white vegetables – you either love it or hate it. Just to set the record straight, I’m an okra lover so when I walked by the local halal market and saw a box of these green fingers, I had to buy some.


I was craving gumbo-style soup on that gray day and okra is a key ingredient. It imparts a wonderful texture as it cooks – some would say a peculiar slime – but in this recipe the viscosity adds body and heartiness to the soup.

It’s easy to make and comes together in about 30 minutes. First, saute the vegetable trinity of New Orleans cuisine: chopped onions, celery and bell pepper. Sweat these vegetables until they release their juices and are tender.


Slice the okra in 1/2″ pieces then add that to the pot along with garlic and stir briefly until garlic is fragrant.


Add chicken stock, tomatoes, a bay leaf and some cooked chicken. If I have some in the house, I also add cubed zucchini and fresh corn cut off the cob. Simmer the soup until the vegetables are tender, add cooked rice and serve it up, maybe with a nice slab of cornbread.


You can take this soup in a lot of different directions. Add Andouille sausage and raw shrimp for a heartier gumbo, make it vegetarian by leaving out all animal proteins or use turkey instead of chicken (thinking ahead here to Thanksgiving leftovers).

In any case, it’s a handy little soup that I often make after a roasted chicken dinner, using the carcass for stock and the leftover meat for the soup. Top with a few squirts of Sriracha sauce and, as they like to say here in London, “Bob’s your uncle”.


Chicken Gumbo Soup

2 T olive oil

1 cup diced onion

1/2 cup each diced celery and green bell pepper

2 cloves garlic minced

1 1/2  cups okra, sliced in 1/2″ coins

2 cups chicken stock, more if necessary

1 bay leaf

1 1/2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped or 1-14.5 oz can chopped tomatoes and their juice

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken meat, in bite-sized pieces

1 cup cooked Basmati rice

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion, celery and pepper and saute until vegetables are soft, about 7-10 minutes. Add garlic and okra and stir until garlic is fragrant then add the stock, bay leaf and tomatoes. Season well with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then lower heat to barely simmering, stirring occasionally, until all vegetables are cooked through. Add the chicken and rice and heat through. If needed, thin with additional chicken stock or water. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with Sriracha sauce or Tabasco if desired.

Yield: 4 servings








Just in case you’re wondering what to do with all that leftover food crowding your fridge, check out my latest article on Zester Daily:


There are recipes for soup, salad and several main courses with creative ideas on how to reinvent the turkey and trimmings into something new and tasty.





I grew these beans last summer in our garden. They are cranberry beans, a.k.a borlotti beans, traditionally used in the Italian soup Pasta e Fagioli. This is the second year that I grew them. The first year they were the size of small pearls but this year they were much larger, which I attribute to my super compost pile.

I got the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds two years ago then saved some of the beans to plant after that first year and grew them last summer. The beans were planted in large, metal wash tubs with drain holes in the bottom. Bamboo stakes were used in a teepee shape as supports for the bean vines. The vines bloom with pretty flowers then pods form that initially look like long green beans. The pods get bigger and fatter and develop spots. They stay on the vine until dried, which here in Northern California was in mid-October, then are picked and shelled. I planted 12 seeds, 3 per pole, which yielded about one pound of dried beans.

With the wintry weather blowing in, it’s a good day to make some soup with my beans. The flavors of greens and beans comes through, with creamy notes contributed by the parmesan rind. Finished with a drizzle of fresh, local olive oil and grated parmesan sprinkled on top, it makes for a hearty lunch or supper.


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1large carrot and 2 celery stalks, chopped

2 leaves of fresh sage, minced or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1 small sprig fresh rosemary, minced or 1/2 teaspoon dried

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. dried cranberry or borlotti beans, soaked overnight or 5 cups of canned beans, drained and rinsed

1 can diced tomatoes with juice or 1 1/2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced

1 quart chicken stock

2 inch piece of rind from parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 packed cups kale or Swiss chard, tough stems and ribs removed, leaves sliced into thin ribbons

1/2 teaspoon salt and 6 grinds of fresh pepper from a mill

Extra virgin olive oil and grated parmesan for serving


First soak the beans overnight, they will swell to double their original size:


Heat oil in a 4 1/2 quart saucepan until shimmering. Add onions, carrots, celery and herbs and sweat, covered, over low heat for about 10 minutes, until vegetables are soft but not browned. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the beans, tomatoes, stock, cheese rind, pepper flakes and greens and bring to a boil.Image

Puree half the soup using a submersion blender or food processor.


Taste and adjust seasoning. Ladle into bowls, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Buon Appetito!