What is Ghanaian okro stew?
Okro stew (or okra stew) is one of the best accompaniments to banku, one of Ghana’s national dishes. The main components of okro stew are a tomato stew base made with red palm fruit oil, onions, tomatoes, spices and finely chopped okra. Okra stew comes in many forms and consistencies, from fairly slimy to almost soupy, and can be mixed with other vegetables such as garden eggs, or left simply as okra stew.
The history behind the okra
It is interesting to note, however, that an old Herman Moll (1710 AD) map of Africa depicts Ethiopia as a vast country spreading from the Biafra region and modern-day Cameroon in West Africa and North of Congo to just West and South of modern-day Somalia and Ethiopia respectively. It is possible that Ethiopia has been referenced in times past, however the exact location did not relate to modern day Ethiopia, but rather West and Central Africa.
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Find out how much you know about Ghanaian recipes, local ingredients, preparation methods and the history behind this delicious West African cuisine.
Okra is known as okro throughout West Africa. The etymology of the word okra is traced to the 1670s in West Africa, with the name okra sounding fairly close to the Igbo (Nigeria) word, ọ́kụ̀rụ̀, as well as the Akan (Ghana, Twi) word, nkuruma. It is known by other names such as nkruma (Twi, Fante), betri or fetri (Ewe), engmomi (Ga), ila (Yoruba) and gombo (Bantu/French Speaking Africa/Congo).
How to make okro stew
Making okra stew for the first time may seem daunting, however the process is fairly easy to follow. The first step is to make a tomato stew base with red palm oil, onions, tomatoes, tomato purée (optional), garlic, ginger and peppers. Other seasonings such as chicken stock cube or shrimp seasoning can be used to enhance the flavor. Once the tomato stew base has cooked and broken down into a sauce, an assortment of meat, seafood or both is added. The finely chopped okra is added last. Some people steam the okra prior to adding, which results in a sauce that is more viscous, whilst others add the raw okra without pre-cooking.
The cooking time varies according to preference. Some people like their okra less slimy and still intact, therefore cooking time is reduced, or the okra is cut into larger chunks. Others prefer their okra stew with a highly viscous consistency. To achieve this, the okra is finely chopped or even grated, then cooked with slightly more added water. This encourages the sliminess of the okra to come out even more. When the stew has such a fine and viscous consistency, it is sometimes referred to as “draw” soup; with draw describing the slimy viscosity of the soup.
What meat to use in okro stew?
Meat such as beef, lamb, pork, goat, cow foot and ham hock go well with okra stew. Chicken is rarely used however smoked turkey has been tried and tested. To make an impressive dish, a completely seafood okra topped with crabs or a lobster tail will impress your dinner guests.
The different versions of okro stew around the world
Okra can be cooked without tomatoes, where the okra is chopped or finely grated, oil is rarely used, more water is added, and the resulting sauce is more of a soup. Fetri detsi, an Ewe dish from the Volta region of Ghana, is the perfect example of this.
Another stew which follows a similar process and ingredients to okra stew is fante fante. As the name suggests, this stew comes from the Fante people of Ghana. A juicy palm oil stew is made with onions and tomatoes. Fresh fish is added and steamed in the stew, then finally a small amount of okro is added to finish off the dish. Fante fante has flavors reminiscent of the Brazilian Bahian fish stew called moqueca, without the coconut milk. This is also enjoyed with banku or rice. The Central African name for okra suggests that these stews are closely related to the Creole dish called gumbo, popular in Louisiana.
In other parts of the world such as the Middle East, okra stew such as bamya is made by sautéeing whole okra pods in a tomato based sauce. Inspired by this vegetarian dish, you could also try to make a Ghanaian style okra stew with whole okra pods, served on a bed of quinoa or steamed millet for a protein packed meal.
Gnaouia, a Tunisian okra stew, is also very similar to okra stew, although it does not use red palm oil. Interestingly enough, the word for okra (gnaouia) comes from the word Ghana, where the vegetable is thought to have originated.
- 2 lb stewing beef
- 1 beef stock cube (or chicken stock cube)
- 4 kpakposhito peppers
- 4 tablespoons palm oil
- 2 large onions
- 2 cloves garlic , finely diced
- 1 inch piece ginger
- 4 medium vine tomatoes
- Scotch bonnet pepper (or chili powder), according to taste
- 2 fillets smoked mackerels (optional)
- 24 pods okra
- Water (as needed)
Cut the stewing beef into bite sized chunks and place into a pot. Chop ¾ of the first onion and add it to the beef. Reserve the other ¼ onion for the sauce.
- Add the kpakposhito to the pot, whole.
- Add a cube of beef or chicken stock seasoning, top with water and braise until tender. Cooking time depends on the type of stewing beef used. While the beef is cooking, prepare the other ingredients as follows.
- Finely chop the second whole onion. Place a large pot on the stove and heat up the palm oil. Fry the onions in the oil until they just begin to caramelize.
- Add the diced ginger to the pot and fry for about 1 minute, just before adding the tomatoes.
Chop the tomatoes into small chunks and place them into a blender or food processor. Add the ginger to the tomatoes.
- Add the remaining onion to the blender.
Add the desired amount of scotch bonnet peppers.
- Pulse or liquidize the ingredients until smooth.
- Pour the mixture over the caramelized onions and allow the sauce to cook down and thicken. This should take 10 minutes, as oil begins to rise to the top. Stir regularly to prevent burning.
Quarter the okra pods, then chop them into ¼-inch (5 mm) thin slices. Set aside.
Break the smoked mackerel into chunks and add to the stew (optional). Add a little more water and allow to simmer for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse into the sauce.
- Add the chopped okra into the stew and stir. A little more water may be added to encourage the okra to cook well. The presence of tomatoes in the stew slows down the sliming process. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the cooked beef along with the stock created during the braising process and stir to incorporate into the stew. Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Check for seasoning and add salt if required. The dish is now ready to be served alongside banku.