Hard-to-Find Dried Okra Worth Seeking Out

Dried OkraMy best vacations involve ferreting out local food markets, from tiny one-room shops to outdoor city blocks sprawling with food vendors. My mind happily races with recipe ideas when I gaze upon abundant spices, regional cheeses, glistening seafood, and seasonally fresh fruits and vegetables.

I’m addicted to unusual ingredients. If an herb, spice, or other comestible is one I’ve never heard of, I buy it immediately. Figuring out how to use oddball items helps extend our always too short vacations.

Yesterday I hit the ingredient jackpot and didn’t have to leave Anchorage to do it.

While sharing morning coffee with friends Marie and Ankine, our conversation turned to ingredients we bring home from travels because they aren’t available in Alaska. Marie included dried okra in the list of foods that fill her luggage.

Dried okra? My ears perked up. I’d never heard of dried okra, and was full of questions. Where did the dried okra come from? How did Marie use it? How is the okra dried?

Marie opened the refrigerator and removed a jar of the tiniest okra I’d ever seen. Baby okra, 1” long, had been strung on cotton string like a necklace and dried until hard. Marie’s okra came from Turkey, via a California speciality market.

Every year I spend the end of summer in a Greek farming village. It’s a time of abundance and we eat what’s in season, including okra. I’ve prepared lots of okra, usually the size of my little finger. Cleaning normal size okra is time-consuming; cleaning okra so much smaller seemed as if it would take interminably long. I marveled at how much work went into preparing the string of baby okra Marie was holding.

In Marie’s native Lebanon, she said people prefer tiny okra and pick it when it’s no longer than the last joint of a woman’s little finger. When she lived in Lebanon, Marie bought big bags of fresh baby okra in season. She strung the little okra together, hung them to dry, and used these summer morsels to enhance winter meals. This is not possible in Alaska where okra comes from the supermarket and is often only available frozen.

Marie insisted on giving me a string of baby okra, weighing it out precisely at 50 grams (1/8 pound), the right amount to make dinner for two. She also gave me one of her Armenian-Lebanese recipes for cooking dried okra.

Buying Dried Okra: In the United States, you’re unlikely to find a local source for dried okra unless you live in New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Order dried okra online from Parthenon Foods directly or via Amazon, or from Kalustyan’s, a specialty food store in New York City.

Dried Okra Trivia: The first Armenian cookbook in the United States (The Oriental Cook Book; Wholesome, Dainty, and Economical Dishes of the Orient, Especially Adapted to American Tastes and Methods of Preparation), was written by Ardashes Hagop Keoleian in 1913. Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project, Michigan State University’s effort to create an online collection of influential early American cookbooks, has a digital copy of the book available for downloading.

About okra, Keoleian says: “The flavor is not agreeable to most people at first, but it is one of the best vegetables known for food. It is used fresh, also sold strung-on-threads in dried condition. It is put up in cans, too. A delicious food, especially good for invalids. The price of dried okra is 40 cents per pound.”

Dried okra was apparently as hard to find in 1913 America as it is now; the author kindly told his readers that dried okra “may be had, on short notice, by writing to the author, A.H. Keoleian, care of the Publishers, New York City. All orders should accompany with an additional sum of 10 per cent of the value of the order, for packing purposes, etc.”

Be sure to check out the recipes mentioned in this post:

 

10 Responses to Hard-to-Find Dried Okra Worth Seeking Out

  1. Thanks for filling me in on dried okra…I’ve never heard of it until now. You’ve also squeezed out a nice dish from it (okra).

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks from San Diego too! We just picked up dried okra at an Arab Market and had a tough time finding a recipe online. Lorrie

  3. Lulu Barbarian says:

    I just planted some okra seeds, for enough plants that I know I won’t be able to use all the fruit. I’m the only person I know who likes okra, which definitely caps the usage. I somehow got the idea of drying it (must have read about it somewhere but now I have no recollection) with the vague idea of tossing it into soups. I googled for “dried okra,” and had to laugh at seeing your familiar site listed first in google. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but…all roads lead to Anchorage, it seems. 🙂 Nice recipe, better than just tossing handfuls into soup.

  4. Thanks for the information on dried okra. I recently downloaded a copy of Cooking In Old Creole Days from Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project. There is a recipe that called for dried okra so I Googled it and found your site. I have okra planted in my garden which I usually cut up, place in freezer bags and put in the deep freeze. Drying the okra sounds intresting and I may give it a try.

  5. Amber Van Geert says:

    hi, if you have a hard time finding dried okra, try your local Turkish or Moroccan stores, they mostly have it because assumingly they do use it, i think any foreigners market will carry it… just so u guys know;)

  6. Laurie, I am chuckling to myself in delight that on my internet search for what I am to do with my massive crop of okra I found link after link to your page. Being that I know first hand how wonderful and astounding you are in the kitchen, it was a double treat to see Marie and Ankine’s contribution, and I will be trying their recipe out forth with. I do love and miss all three of you! I still make Marie’s Dolmas often and miss my yearly trip to Cedars to gather the Epitaphios flowers all year round because of it;) I am so happy for your success, as I have seen and heard you referenced many times over in the past years. You are the real thing!
    Opa, from Tennessee.
    sending you all my love, Rena

    • Oh Rena, we do miss you up here in Alaska. It’s hard having a festival without you – you and Maria Baskous always personified the festival to me. Both of you possess true kefi, and yours is badly missed, especially this time of year. I wish it were possible for you to make it up here – I know some year you will find a way to return and bring smiles to all our faces! Hope all is well with you and the kiddies, who aren’t quite so kiddly any more!! Much love, Laurie (PS: Give my best to your mama – we miss her too!)

  7. I learned of this great food when a friend brought me a bag back from California…my taste buds were really missing this GREAT food!!!!!! ALL OKRA lovers needs to try it….WOW

  8. We made a wonderful soup of this in Turkey, with lamb, and tomato and lemon. I have really missed it! THanks for the hints on where to find it.

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