Honoring Okra and the Summer Games

Who knew? I was on my way to the office listening to an update about last night’s games when this story from National Public Radio struck me from across the airwaves. Apparently, from the dawn of the Olympic games until 1948, poetry was included as part of the competition.

Olympic Stamp 1960 Greece

According to Peter Armenti, this tradition began from the onset when the Greek poet Pindar composed victory odes for athletes competing in the Olympic games during the period circa 500 B.C.. His first, written to celebrate the victory of the racehorse Pherenikos, owned by Hieron, ruler of Syracuse concludes with this, “May it be yours to walk on high throughout your life, and mine to associate with victors as long as I live, distinguished for my skill among Greeks.”

I am tickled at this realization while at the same time, remorseful that the tradition ended. The ancient Greeks saw complete connection between body and intellect and they sought perfection in both. The athletes would hire the greatest poets to write their winning odes and poetry itself, became a competition – one you could earn a medal for winning.

In my own private olympics, the competition is getting my family to eat okra. It grows well in a hot arid climate and as such, our CSA has an abundant supply during July and August. Like eggplant, it’s a difficult vegetable for many and it’s texture adds even more challenge.

What I have learned is that if you cook the okra certain ways, the sliminess can be reduced. One way is to blacken it. I’ve also had great success dehydrating it for use throughout the year in soups and stews. Tonight however as an ode to the summer games, I choose an international flavor. This Bhindi Masala is a fast recipe that uses a microwave to “dry” some of the moisture from the okra before putting the dish together. I used it as a main course for me and a side for others.

Bhindi Masala
adapted from allrecipes
serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 cups okra, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large tomatoe, diced (I used small yellow pear tomatoes halved)
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Place the okra in a large, microwave-safe dish and cook in microwave on High for 6 minutes. Heat the olive oil and cumin seeds together in a large skillet over medium heat until the cumin seeds swell and turn golden brown. Add the onions to the heated oil and stir for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes to the mixture and cook another 3 minutes. (If you like, this would be a place you could add other chopped veg like red or yellow peppers) Stir the okra into the mixture; season with the curry powder and salt. Cook and stir the mixture until hot, about 3 minutes more. Serve hot.

Alas, the okra is gone. My sons ate it up without complaint.

Bhindi Masala

To modify the poetic words of the French visionary,  Baron Pierre de Coubertin who revived the Olympic in 1912 and who took the gold medal for poetry in that year:

“O Okra, you are Beauty! . . . O Bhindi, you are Protein! . . . Ladie’s Fingers full of Goodness! Our bodies tremble in bliss upon tasting your fruit. . . . ”

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79 Comments

  1. Thank you for the history and the recipe. Both were amazing.

    Reply
  2. Renee

     /  August 4, 2012

    So interesting about the poetry in the Olympics! And I love okra in soups and would love to try it as a side dish. Thanks for the recipe, Tammy!

    Reply
    • If you enjoy curry, you’ll like this. And yes, I am totally fascinated that poetry was a competition category.

      Reply
  3. We haven’t had okra yet in our CSA…maybe it isn’t cultivated in Massachusetts? Just in case it comes along later, I’ll bookmark your page. :)

    Reply
  4. I love eggplant, but have a hard time getting excited about okra…

    I had no idea about the poetry/olympic connection – kind of fascinating…I guess what we leave behind instead of poetry is television commercials.

    Wish I could be a fly on the wall to see some future history teacher sharing an interpretation of what we’ve left behind …

    Reply
    • Isn’t that the truth? Bloggers in the next century will be writing commercials for their farm goods on their posts!

      Reply
  5. Lisa H

     /  August 4, 2012

    It took three weeks of receiving okra in my CSA box to finally drum up the courage to cook it. We were pleasantly surprised!
    Very interesting facts about poetry. Thanks for the cool piece of history.

    Reply
  6. This sounds like a nice recipe…good combination of flavors. Okra doesn’t grow well here in northern Michigan, so I rarely have to worry about excess. I have discovered that is makes a wonderful pickle, though. Crunchy and tasty, no slime.

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  7. Ahh. Imagine a world in which the language and literary programs of universities received the type of outside funding and public interest that their sports programs do. Highlight clip shows would feature “Stanzas Of The Week.” Controversy would surround the beer companies every time they pulled their sponsorship from writers whose sonnets scorned alcohol (if there is a writer who scorns alcohol). And because creative performance isn’t generally enhanced with pricy athletic shoes or shirts, the big new sponsors of authors might be travel companies, laptop manufacturers, or what’s left of the music or book publishing industries. On television we might have an “EPPN” network, with “back back back back back!” replaced by “type type type type type!” commentary. Some might look for a “Fox Poetry” channel, but that’s simply far too much of an oxymoron. Get ready for the Japanese team to kill us in the Haiku event, but we’ll be strong medal contenders in free-form jazz-like word bending contests. Happily, no spandex will be required, competitors of all ages are welcome, and testing for common “performance enhancers” will be pointless. Open Mic Night at the Olympics would require about two hundred interpreters, all of whom would be struggling with literal, contextual, and symbolic meanings, making judging very difficult. It sounds like a great party, and I’m all for it.

    Reply
  8. Poetry, the Olympics and okra! You were very creative in combining these three topics. I hadn’t known that poetry was honored in the original games. I loved how you adapted an old poem as an ode to okra.

    Thanks for the okra recipe. I love okra, even when it’s slimy. I first ate it canned with tomatoes, so I didn’t know about the slime until later.

    I grew okra plants one summer. The okra plant produces beautiful hibiscus-like flowers, too, and is related to the hibiscus family.

    Reply
  9. Definitely trying this! I had no idea that a stint in the microwave could reduce okra slime — awesome.

    Reply
  10. Coming from southern people – I grew up with okra…great post!

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

    Reply
  11. I like okra but we never see it. Maybe I’ll sub eggplant in the recipe.

    Many thanks for the history of poetry in the Olympics. Like you, I didn’t know. Yes, we need to bring back that tradition.

    Reply
  12. I love fried okra . . . but I would definitely give this recipe a go. Everything tastes better with curry. ;)

    Ode to Okra

    The heat of summer
    Swells your pod
    You may be slimy
    But what a bod!

    Reply
  13. I didn’t know that about poetry being in the Olympics. What an interesting fact. I don’t cook much with okra because we don’t see it very often here. I do think it works well with Indian food xx

    Reply
  14. Tammy, you are forever teaching us ,informing us , and entertaining us all at once! I’ve only heard of fried okra, so thank you for adding to my horizons AGAIN. :) I love the idea of exercising our brains with writing poetry for the winning athletes. Thank you for all you share!

    Reply
    • It opens horizons, doesn’t it Deb? We can open a newspaper and begin to see all sorts of poetry fodder. Oh, if only there was more work for a poet!

      Reply
  15. I learned to like steamed okra in a Nashville cafe that served vegetables only. Superb fare. Your recipe sounds delicious! Blessings to you, Tammy.

    Reply
  16. Yum! I have yet to receive okra in my box. I heard that maybe it’s because of our climate. At any rate, I would love to try them sometime.

    Come and share your link with this week’s party…http://inherchucks.com/2012/08/02/whats-in-the-box-37/. See you there!

    Reply
    • Okra is tough but I think on the grill it’s so easy and tasty. That’s my new favorite way.

      Reply
  17. We don’t get okra here so I’ve never tried it. This poetry tradition must be the start of thank you speeches for award ceremonies. :)

    Reply
  18. I love how the humanities lend themselves to every conversation! Fun to hear about the poetic Olympic feats! My friend,Taz, makes the most delicious stir fry with okra, onions, and Indian spices. It is my favorite recipe except for Southern fried! I’ll have to share your recipe with her!

    Reply
    • I wonder if this recipe is similar to what Taz does? I grilled it last night and really loved it.

      Reply
  19. fivereflections

     /  August 5, 2012

    to okra with love – enjoyed okra since i was knee-high to a grasshopper…
    thanks Tammy

    Reply
  20. Lucy

     /  August 5, 2012

    I love okra…wish it grew well in this maritime climate!

    Reply
  21. I’m still chuckling over you ode to Okra! Well done, Tammy. I’ve never had the vegetable – I’ve not heard of anyone growing it here. So I don’t know whether to sidle up to your boys and protest the slippery little morsels or not.

    Reply
  22. I love everything about this post! I did not know that poetry was included (and agree it is sad that it is missing now days).

    We have a ton of okra in our CSA box too. Thank you for the recipe. We have been sauteing it (in a castiron pan on the grill) with a variety of veggies and spices and putting it on top of rice or quinoa. My eight year old eats it right up.

    Reply
    • Thank you Kristy! I just through it on the grill after oiling it and it worked very well.

      Reply
  23. Okra definitely divides people doesn’t it ! I think people are put off it when they’ve had it and it’s been over cooked and gets all slimy. Love Indian flavours and I like your idea of using the microwave to get some of the moisture out.
    And yes bring back poetry to the games :)

    Reply
  24. Hmm, I think I might still be more successful getting the husband to read poetry…

    Reply
    • Keep working at it. Honestly! I keep working at it. One day, all in my household will appreciate poetry.

      Reply
  25. I’ll have to try an adaptation of the recipe and add less onions. I do love this post however, and the picture you chose is perfect!

    Reply
  26. S. Thomas Summers

     /  August 6, 2012

    And it should be today. Thanks.

    S. Thomas Summers
    Author of Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War

    Reply
  27. Bindi Masala is one of my fav dish :) This version looks so delicious :)

    Reply
  28. When I lived in the South there were so many different okra dishes you could find! I learned to love it. The north isn’t as “okra-friendly”…I sure do miss the South! Great post!!!

    Reply
  29. That looks totally delicious. I wish we had okra in our box some time! I guess there is always the grocery store freezer section…wop wop. :)

    Reply
  30. Fascinating history, Tammy, but I’ve tried Okra once and nothing can convince me to have a second go at it. (But your photo does make it look tempting!)

    Reply
  31. Oh, Tammy, now I have Snow White’s stepmother’s envy: you have made the mother of all connections here. Bravo. And the twist round to Okra (which I have never tasted!!) and the connection between physical and intellectual excellence: well, encore un fois. This is just a literary connection gold medal post :-D

    Reply
  32. I grew up eating okra. Depending on how it’s cooked, so is the amount of okra that I eat. Yes, the challenge is the sliminess. It is healthy and delicious when prepared with a right recipe such as this yummy Bhindi Masala. Thanks for sharing all these. Have a great day.

    Reply
  33. I never knew that, about the poetry connection to the Olympics. It’s interesting to note the high regard the Greek culture had for artistry and intellect expressed in words. I wonder if the world today (especially USA) would simply gaffe at poetry if it were read at the medal ceremonies. Always learning something new here, Tammy.

    Reply
  34. I know well the challenge in getting your family to eat certain CSA vegetables. We never get okra, so I have to search it out the couple times a year I make gumbo.

    Reply
  35. What a great post! I was completely shocked that the educational beginning turned into a post on food. You tied it in really nicely together and I was smiling by the end of reading it all. :D

    Reply
    • Christa, thanks for reading and I’m glad you enjoyed it. I try to offer up something more than recipes and I love to do research.

      Reply
  36. I had no idea poetry and sports belonged so closely together! :D Also, I still have to try okra. I’ve read they tend to be slimy, and that put me off a little so far. ;)

    Reply
    • Okra gets a bad wrap. It is really good on the grill or in ethnic dishes. I don’t pickle things but it would be very good that way as well.

      Reply
  37. Hi Tammy, So I just wrote you back on our blog asking for okra ideas, then came onto your blog and read your recipe. This looks great – we’ll have to try it!

    Reply
  38. We harvest okra everyday from our home garden and they are just lovely!

    Reply
  39. Growing up with soul food, okra was the thing I most despised. What a strange vegetable–nay, creature!–for children to gawk at :D

    Today’s heavily commercialized Olympics doesn’t interest me in the least. I saw that headline a few weeks ago, “Literature At The Olympics” or something close…kind of makes you wonder about the similarities between sports and art.

    Reply

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