Aug 3, 2010

The Language of Okra

My dad brought me some okra from his garden a few weeks ago.  The timing was perfect since it corresponded with the last round of home grown tomatoes.  Naturally, I made smothered okra--my favorite way to eat okra. 

I could tell you about okra--the plant...that it's related to hibiscus and grows very well in the summer when other crops tend to get crispy crunchy from the heat.  But I'll use my space more wisely since you could easily google that sort of thing.

Okra leaves look suspicious...especially to my dad's old nosey neighbor who could look from his second floor window down onto dad's garden.  For the longest time, Mr. B would casually try to question my dad about what he "had growing back there."  But Mr. B was about as subtle as old lady perfume in church.  Dad knew what he was suspected of.  Mr. B wouldn't be the first person to mistake okra for pot.

* Where I live, people don't say okra.  They call it oak-ree.  I don't know why.  But it sure makes me think about some of the other crazy things we say and the way we say them.

So...I thought it would be fun to do another round of Louisiana Linguistics.

* If you're ever in New Orleans, don't ask where Chartres Street is and pronounce it the correct way, which would be "shart" (which would be French).  Oh no, don't do that.  People will shrug.  Or scratch their heads.  Or both.  Now if you ask where's CHART-ers Street you'll be in business.

* Same goes for the street my great-grandma lived on: Telemachus, named after the son of Odysseus, stamina-laden star of The Odyssey.
My great-grandma didn't live on Tuh-LEM-a-kus Street.  She lived on tel-a-MACK-us. 
If you've ever wondered what the term yat means, that pronunciation's a good start.

* But ya know, it's no wonder we say things a little differently.  A good portion of the people down here identify with a name that stems from a mispronunciation.  Cajun.  The Acadians were French settlers in what is now Nova Scotia.  They were exiled by the British during Le Grand Dérangement starting in 1755.  Many found their way to Louisiana.  The word Cajun is a corruption of the word Acadian.

I spent a fair amount of time outside of Louisiana and when I moved back I found great delight in the little quirks in our language.

* Tah-tah: doesn't mean good bye.  Tah tah is what mama says to a toddler who has something she shouldn't. 
Tah tah = Give it to me.

* Make dodo (pronounced dough-dough): My dad used to tell us it was time to make dodo. "Make dodo" comes from fais do do, which is French for make sleep.  In Louisiana, a fais do do is a house dance.  There was a room set aside for the children.  Mothers would bring their children to the room and tell them "fais do do" (go to sleep) so the adults could go cut a rug.

* When I get home from the store I save my groceries.  I like for The Boy to save his toys before he goes to bed.  Our groceries and toys aren't facing ultimate doom.  Save means to put away.

You may have noticed that French is still part of our everyday language.  Very often people will have both English & French words in the same sentence.

* Ya'll keep going in and out so much...j'ai froid (I'm cold).  Close the door!

* I thought he was coming at noon but moi, je connais pas (mosh-koe-nay-pah) (me, I don't know).  

* That gave me the frissons (chills) bad, yeah.

* J: People always think she's so sweet and innocent; but she's not.  B: Oh!  She's canaille?! Canaille means mischievous...and the conversation above is one The Husband had about yours truly.

* So he decides to pull the tree down with his truck but he just guesses at how big it is.  Couillon (idiot) ends up taking out the shed, patio cover, and two windows.

Ready for some cooking?  Mais, yeah!

I'd say this is a pretty healthy dish
Mise en place for Smothered Okra: olive oil, onion, bell pepper, garlic, okra, tomatoes, salt, and pepper

As usual, get the onion and bell pepper cookin.  I like to give them a few minutes head start before adding the garlic. 
Chop the tomatoes and slice the okra while they cook down.

If you've never worked with okra before, you should know that when cut it'll slime your cutting board.  It's that slime that helps thicken gumbo so I guess there's a purpose for it.  
Me, I get kinda icked out sometimes. 
But I do think okra is pretty when sliced.

If you do this and stir

and this for about 40-45 min

You'll get this

Smothered okra can be eaten as is.  It can be eaten over rice.  It can be added to gumbo.  It can be frozen and eaten later when you feel the need to think about summer.

Smothered Okra served with Sausage Etouffee.
Ca c'est bon (sa-say-BOHN)!

I'm linking this to What's on the Menu Wednesday
@ Dining With Debbie

Smothered Okra
from Ms. enPlace

Olive oil to just cover the bottom of your pot
1 large onion, chopped
1 small or 1/2 of a large green bell pepper, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
about 3 cups sliced okra
about 3 cups chopped ripe tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

*The amounts of okra and tomatoes don't matter too much as long as you have roughly the same amount of each.  If you only have 2 cups of each, use it!  If you have 4 cups of each, that'll be fine too.

Heat oil in a large pot.  Add the onions and bell pepper and saute until they start to soften.  Add the garlic and continue cooking until everything is tender.
Add the tomatoes and okra.  Stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook on medium low for 40-45 minutes.  Okra should be tender but not falling apart and mushy.  Taste before serving and season with more salt and pepper if needed.
Can be eaten as is, served over rice, or added to gumbo.  Can also be frozen.

In honor of my 100th post, I'm giving away a few of my favorite Louisiana products.
One pound of dark roast Community coffee, a bottle of my favorite hot sauce--Louisiana brand (Red Dot Sauce), Zatarains Creole Mustard, a bottle of Cajun Power Garlic Sauce, a bottle of file powder, and probably some lagniappe by the time it's ready to be shipped to a lucky winner.

All you have to do is:
1. Become (or already be) a follower of my blog
2. Leave a comment telling me which Cajun or Creole dish you'd most like to try (I'm fishing for reader ideas here, ya'll!)

The contest will run until 9 PM CST, August 10th, 2010
A random comment will be chosen and announced August 11th, 2010.
The giveaway is limited to the continental US, please!

I consulted the following source for French spellings.  While I hear plenty of French every day, I rarely see it in print!

Valdman, Albert and Kevin J. Rottet, eds.  Dictionary of Louisiana French: As Spoken in Cajun, Creole, and American Indian Communities.  Jackson: University Press of MS, 2010.


  1. Your use of language is fascinating, and confusing. :) I follow, although I am a bit behind on my blog reading.

    I don't know too much about the cooking you do. I would like to hear more about typical Cajun/Creole desserts.

  2. My husband spent a lot of time in New Orleans and the surrounding area growing up. He loves all things Cajun and loves that I've been trying all of your recipes. Lately he's been asking for boudin, so I'd like to see your favorite recipe.


  3. Your use of language is very similar to French Canadians. People are always wondering what I'm telling the kids when I say it's do do time.

    I'm a follower and though I've had gumbo before, I'm certain it was nothing close to authentic Cajun Gumbo. So that is what I'd love to try.

  4. Anonymous8/04/2010

    I'd like to know more about the differance between Cajin and Creole.

  5. I'm really loving that giveaway Michelle! I'm a fan of red dot, but the rest I've never seen before and it would be fun to try it out. I don't know if it's cajun or creole, but what about beignets? Pain Perdu? What about turtle soup? Have you ever had that? I keep seeing recipes for that over and over again lately. I don't know if I could eat it or not.

    Loved reading your post about Louisiana Linguistics. Very interesting. I wish my kids would "save" their toys more often.

    I think I tried okra once as a teenager and it was really slimy. I've changed a lot since I was a teenager (thank god) and I would love to give this a go, especially if you were the one to make it for me!!

  6. Congrats on your 100th post! Love the blog, I just recently discovered that my family who came to California during the Gold Rush originated in New Orleans. I'll have to give some of this Cajun cooking a try

  7. In the town where I live, in Nevada, every year, there is a HUGE Livestock auction. It's done on video, so there is no actual cattle, but it's a HUGE DEAL. Cattlemen from all over the United States come to buy and sell. Millions of dollars are spent. This auction takes place over a week, and on Thursday night they have a big BBQ and dance. It's by invitation only, but it's outside, so everyone can come and sit and hear the band. For the past two years the main band has been "Waylan Tribideau" I don't know how to spell his name right, but he's a very famous Cajun fiddler...with a band. They are very good. friend April and I just loved to hear him speak. We loved his Cajun accent. And he would use the word "cher" quite a bit.
    I thought of you!

  8. I am a new follower...found you from Dining with Debbie. I love your blog and can't wait to try some of your other recipes. I don't have any ideas on other dishes, but I can't wait to try the posted okra dish (I'm sad I didn't get any at the farmer's market y'day now).

    Anyway, I hope you'll stop by my blog and link up for my new carnival...Tip Day Thursday.

  9. Love your blog and it brings me back to when I lived there. I loved the poque eggs one. My favorite was "'til it looks right". I would like to see another fish dish and always looking for new ways to cook a whole chicken cut up.

    Take care!

  10. Well, I was born in New Orleans, although we didn't live there long enough for me to claim it as my hometown :) I do love cajun cooking and would love to see any and all recipes..which is why I follow your's AWESOME!!!

  11. I thought I was a follower already, I am a weekly reader though and now a follower!

    I'm wanting to try that crockpot chicken creole recipe soon.

    Love your blog, so interesting!


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