Our African Heritage & Health program has been cooking up a new resource this spring. The National Black Child Development Initiative kindly invited Oldways to co-create a culturally rich recipe book for families with children, using the alphabet as our guide. The standards for these twenty-six recipes, featuring foods starting with A-Z, were simple: all of the recipes had to be kid-friendly, easy and quick to make, affordable, and fit within the guidelines of the African Heritage Diet and other traditional diets. A recipe for health through heritage, for sure!

While teachers and students continue to stir, steam, sauté, and taste away in our A Taste of African Heritage cooking classes happening around the country, I spent weeks doing the same in my home kitchen. For inspiration, I poured through traditional African heritage cookbooks, like Jessica Harris’s The African Cook: Taste of a Continent. With my stepdaughter Kate as my young helper and taste-tester, I hit the kitchen preparing A for Avocados, B for Black-eyed Peas, M for Mangoes, O for Okra, and Y for Yams with African heritage culinary techniques and flavors.

We ended up with an array of mouthwatering, easy, healthy dishes, all linked to heritage, which kids and families can enjoy together. The recipe book will be available to purchase on our website this summer, but I’d love to offer our blog readers a sneak preview by sharing one of my favorite seasonal recipes, for the letter “O”: Oven-Baked Cornmeal Okra Bites.

Happy cooking!

The Letter O — Oven-Baked Cornmeal Okra Bites
Okra comes to the table full of nutrition and deep African roots. Early African American ancestors brought okra seeds straight from West Africa. The Nigerian word for okra is “gumbo,” which ultimately named the beloved southern stew.

This recipe is a healthy spin on the breaded and fried okra popular in the Deep South.  

If okra’s gooey consistency has turned you off in the past, then this recipe is for you. Okra’s characteristic “goo” helps bind the cornmeal for a light and crispy coat. A touch of sweet smoked paprika gives each bite a summery, smoky flavor that kids and adults will love.

½ lb of okra, frozen and chopped bite- sized
1 cup cornmeal
½ teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
½ teaspoon garlic powder or garlic granules
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Thaw the okra. This recipe calls for half of a 16 oz bag of frozen okra; pour half of the okra into a sealable plastic bag and thaw in warm water (so you won’t thaw the whole bag).

While the okra thaws, mix the cornmeal, paprika, garlic powder, and sea salt in a bowl. Stir well, to evenly spread the ingredients.

Rub a light coat of olive oil on a baking sheet.

Once the okra is thawed, take each pod and roll it through the cornmeal and spices, covering all sides. Place all covered pods on baking sheet.  

Bake the okra for 25 minutes or until the bites are golden brown.

Serve as a snack or the perfect side to a plate of other veggies, potatoes, or black-eyed peas.

Other Ways to Use Okra

  • Simmer okra, tomato sauce, and black-eyed peas in your favorite herbs and spices for a traditional, delicious stew called “Red Red” in Ghana.
  • When it’s in season, fresh okra is beautiful and so much fun to cook with. Keeping okra whole, just snipping off its ends, keeps the sliminess down too. Coat the bottom of a skillet or non-stick pan with olive oil. Heat the pan on medium-heat and sear the whole okra pods until lightly browned on both sides. Serve with dash of sea salt and spritz of fresh lemon for okra bliss!

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