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Celebrating okra, seed to stem

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Okra for sale at the North Charleston Farmers' Market.
Ryan Johnson
/
Flickr
Okra for sale at the North Charleston Farmers' Market.

Chris Smith’s first encounter with okra was of the worst kind: slimy fried okra at a greasy-spoon diner.

Despite that dismal introduction, Smith developed a fascination with okra, and as he researched the plant and began to experiment with it in his own kitchen, he discovered an amazing range of delicious ways to cook and eat it, along with ingenious and surprising ways to process the plant from tip-to-tail: pods, leaves, flowers, seeds, and stalks. Smith talked okra with chefs, food historians, university researchers, farmers, homesteaders, and gardeners. The summation of his experimentation and research comes together in The Whole Okra: A Seed to Stem Celebration (2019, Chelsea Green), a lighthearted but information-rich collection of okra history, lore, recipes, craft projects, growing advice, and more.

The Whole Okra includes classic recipes such as fried okra pods as well as unexpected delights including okra seed pancakes and okra flower vodka. Some of the South’s best-known chefs shared okra recipes with Smith: Okra Soup by culinary historian Michael Twitty, Limpin’ Susan by chef BJ Dennis, Bhindi Masala by chef Meherwan Irani, and Okra Fries by chef Vivian Howard.

Chris joins Walter Edgar for a conversation about all things okra.

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Dr. Walter Edgar has two programs on South Carolina Public Radio: Walter Edgar's Journal, and South Carolina from A to Z. Dr. Edgar received his B.A. degree from Davidson College in 1965 and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1969. After two years in the army (including a tour of duty in Vietnam), he returned to USC as a post-doctoral fellow of the National Archives, assigned to the Papers of Henry Laurens.