Skillet Shrimp and Okra

Even though summer doesn’t technically end til September 23rd, I’ve always felt like Labor Day marks the end of summer. While fall is my preferred season, I wanted to sweetly send off summer and also pay homage to one of my favorite summer films—Daughters of the Dust.


Daughters of the Dust chronicles the Peazants, a Gullah family with roots on the South Carolina Sea Islands. The Gullah people are descendents of enslaved Africans brought to the Lowcountry region to produce rice, indigo, cotton and other resources. Julie Dash, director of the film, does a beautiful job of weaving in the varied experiences around memory, tradition, and hope for a family healing from the legacy of slavery. 


One of my favorite scenes in the film is when the Peazant women come together to make a meal in preparation for some of the family’s departure. It is the definition of conjured cravings. Each of the Peazant women put loving care into making dishes that not only feed the body, but also the soul. 


Drawing inspiration from the Gullah heritage, I decided to make a dish that incorporates Lowcountry staples such as shrimp and okra. Shrimp and okra are traditionally used together in Gullah cuisine to make gumbo. The word gumbo actually derives from Niger-Congo languages that refer to okra as ki ngombo or quingombo.


If you would have told me ten years ago that I’d willingly make a dish with okra in it, I would have laughed in your face. Admittedly, I was never the biggest fan of the vegetable. However, time and more experience cooking with it has made me a believer. I’ve not only grown to appreciate the taste, but I’ve also grown to appreciate the connection it creates to the loved ones that came before me.


A mentor of mine once explained the importance of inner rootwork. Inner rootwork emphasizes the importance of taking care of the internal self and becoming in tune with it so you can best understand what is needed to thrive. In many African Traditional Religions (ATRs), it is common to see the concept of your body as an extension of your ancestors. They not only walk with you spiritually, but you can also be the reincarnation of a passed loved one in some cases. Therefore, the food you put into your body often serves a higher purpose.


So when we think about food and the act of eating, that’s a type of ancestral ritual. In any given meal, you can be fulfilling cravings for someone that has passed on or simply honoring the meals born out of love and survival in your family and community.


Daughters of the Dust illustrates that practice beautifully. The Peazant family conjure one last supper that embodies their ancestors that settled into the Gullah region by incorporating ancestral food staples such as okra and rice. They also emphasize the importance of community. By bringing together loved ones and sharing the resources present to make a delicious meal, the Peazants set an intention to not only honor the past but also to invoke blessings for the future. This is a practice that I think everyone could benefit from.


Skillet Shrimp and Okra


Ingredients:

1 cup vinegar

High-heat vegetable oil (e.g. sesame, avocado or grapeseed)

1 ½ lbs. okra, sliced

1 lb. peeled, deveined shrimp

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp. ginger, minced

½ cup diced yellow onion

1 ½ tsp. seasoning salt (Old Bay or any Creole seasoning)

1 tsp. red chile flakes

Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

2-3 tbsp. chopped parsley

1 tbsp. chopped lemon thyme

2 medium-large tomatoes, diced


Prep Time: 30 minutes 

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings


The key to not having slimy okra is twofold: picking the right okra and doing a little prep work before cooking.


Look for okra that is a rich green, free of brown spots and firm. Good okra has a nice snap to it. 


Once you have some nice okra to take home, the next step is to prep it for cooking. An old Southern trick is to soak the okra in vinegar before cooking. It helps cut down on the slime. 


Add the cup of vinegar to a bowl of okra and swish around. Let sit for 30 minutes. I usually use this time to chop and prep the other ingredients.



After the okra has soaked, rinse the okra under water and pat dry. Chop the okra into ½ inch slices and set aside.


Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the okra and cook until it starts to brown. You may need to add a bit more oil if the okra is sticking to the pan. 


Once there is some browning, add the shrimp, garlic, ginger, onion and spices. Cook until the onions have softened a bit (about 2-3 minutes). Then add the tomatoes and herbs and cook a few more minutes until the shrimp is cooked through.




I decided to meal prep this dish and serve it with black rice and dandelion greens.






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