11 April 2009

I found okra

Earlier this week, after dropping Walt off at the gare for his quick trip to Paris, I went shopping at the Paris Store market in Blois. Paris Store is a chain of grocery stores that carry a wide rangle of products imported from Asia.

I bought a load of rice noodles, mung-bean noodles, bottles of Thai fish sauce and black rice vinegar, bags of corn meal, dried shitake mushrooms, and pinto beans, and two kilos of frozen shrimp, among other delicacies. When I thought I had finished shopping, I pushed my cart to the single check-out stand in the store. I was just going to just stand and wait as the customer ahead of me paid for and packed up her groceries.

Gombos, or okra

But there was nobody in line behind me, so I thought I might as well take a quick look at the vegetables and spring rolls of all kinds in the freezer cases right behind me. That was when I discovered the okra. In French, okra are called gombos. These okra, imported from Thailand, are actually labeled « Gambo », but that's okay. They are okra. I picked up 2 kilos.

A slight labeling issue

When I was packing up my groceries, I told the clerk how happy I was to have found gombos. He looked at me and said, well, you asked me if I could get some, so I did. I thanked him.

Walt and I had made a Paris Store run back in January. That day, I asked the Paris Store employee whether he ever had okra available. He didn't seem to understand the word okra, so I said, you know, des gombos. He understood that. "I ordered some once, fresh okra, but it didn't sell," he told me. "I ended up having to throw it out. If you want some, I can get it for you, but you have to buy 10 kilos of it."

Ten kilos is 22 pounds. Now I wanted okra, but what would I do with 22 pounds of it? "You could blanch it and freeze it," the Paris Store guy said. I asked him whether he might be able to get frozen okra. He said he didn't know.

Shrimp and okra cooked in olive oil
with hot red pepper flakes and garlic

Well, he remembered and he did find frozen okra. I took 2 kilos of it off his hands. I think maybe you have to be a Southerner to appreciate what a find this was. Okra and tomatoes. Fried okra. And Louisiana gumbo!

Yesterday I made shrimp and okra with grits. It was something I had made when I was in North Carolina a couple of years ago, and I had been thinking about it ever since. Okay, I can hear some people already: Slime! Yuck! Actually, that is the essence of okra. I say: "Embrace the sliminess!" — but try not to get it all over your clothes.

Grits, shrimp, and gombos

This okra I bought was imported from Thailand, so it's not exactly ecologically correct in terms of its carbon footprint. In 2006, I found some fresh okra at the Tang Frères supermarket in Paris and made a great Okra Pilâu from one of my Southern cookbooks (here's a link to my blog topic about that).

The recipe for shrimp and okra with grits is pretty simple. Cook some okra in boiling water for 10 minutes. Cook some grits or polenta in a separate pot of water. Peel, devein, and sauté some shrimp in vegetable oil with sliced garlic and hot red pepper flakes. Add the okra to the pan with some butter or olive oil for flavor, and turn down the heat. After a few minutes, serve the shrimp and okra over the grits.


  1. Perfect timing, Ken! Danielle (from Paris) is here visiting and we went to the Trent Restaurant in Pollocksville on Thurs night, the only night they're open because that's when the Rotary Club meets there. ;-) She was able to experience fried okra, hush puppies and corn nuggets, three things she had never eaten before. She liked them all!

    Sorry, but I can't do okra unless it's fried.


  2. The left bank of the Seine in Paris where I was born is south of Notre-Dame and the Louvre, so that makes me a Southerner. Right? Consequently, I like okra/gumbo.

    They grow it in the Coachella Valley of Southern California and I was able to take pictures of the beautiful flower.
    Okra [Hibiscus esculentus] is a plant of the Mallow family, like the Rose of Sharon [Hibiscus syriacus, althéa in French] and the Hibiscus [Hibiscus sinensis] and other lesser known plants.

  3. have u ever grilled okra.....grill it whole with a splash of olive oil & it doesn't get slimy cause it's not cut.....add kosher salt when done......very tasty...i use one of those grill baskets....easy

  4. I will eat about everything but okra must be an acquired taste, non? Maybe grilling might be the solution.
    I just finished watching"The dinner game" (le dinner de cons?). It is so funny especially if you are fluent in french. I laugh everytime.

  5. Bonjour Nadège, les gombos, je suis tombé dedans quand j'étais petit. J'adore le goût.

    The Southern writer named James Dickey wrote: Here is supper. Black-Eyed Peas with Ham Hock....Fried Okra....Country Cornbread....Sweet Potato Pie....You talk of supping with the gods. You've just done it, for who but a god could have come up with the divine fact of okra?

    I really enjoy watching Le Dîner de Cons when I can. Jacques Villeret makes a great con in that movie. He died a couple of years ago — and his home town was... Loches. LOL.

    CHM, next time I come to visit we'll have to buy some okra. Do they have farm produce stands in the Coachella Valley?

    Melinda, do you start with raw okra when you grill them? I assume you do. Wonder if it would work with previously frozen okra.

    BettyAnn, Have you tried okra and tomatoes? Serve it over rice, pasta, or grits. What are corn nuggets? I didn't even know there was a restaurant in Pollocksville.

  6. Mary and I are going down to the Coachella valley later this month and I will see if I can get some okra. I love it and loved the way it was prepared at the cafeterias in Washington, D.C. Most people don't like it, so there's more for me.

  7. Hi Gabby, I got your e-mail the other day and will respond. Meanwhile, I have to say I'm sure you could get good okra in D.C. I remember I did too. I like having access to all different kinds of good food, and I've found France is a good place for that.

  8. Ken......yes....u start with raw okra & the smaller ones r best, but bigger ones r ok too.....if the frozen aren't too too soggy when they that....i guess u could, but have not tried....u really get no slime & they taste very sweet.....I am pretty heavy handed with the salt on these babies

  9. Hi Ken,
    My husband and I are moving to St. Aignan, in fact, we signed final papers on April 20! I am pre-diabetic, and see that it is beneficial in regulating blood sugar. Are you still able to purchase it in Blois?

  10. I often see fresh okra at the Grand Frais super-produce market in Vineuil, one of the big shopping centers on the outskirts of Blois. I also find it once in a while at a grocery called Asia Store in Blois, not too far from the train station.

    1. Am I correct in thinking that you are talking about Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher? There are several Saint-Aignans in France.

      There is also a Grand Frais market in Vierzon, which is about the same distance as Vineuil I don't go there much but they might have okra.

      Another source would be the Paris Store over in Tours-Nord. In my post here, I had bought frozen okra over there (I think).


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