This is a “build your own” gumbo with okra as the base for flavor, nutrition and thickening. Acid in the tomatoes removes the gelatinous okra quality that some find objectionable. Adapted from a friend’s recipe, this works as well with grits as with rice. It’s an add-what-you-have recipe, intended to feed a lot of people inexpensively. Alternative additions include seafood and sausages of any sort including andouille, kielbasa or even fresh sausage. Other recipes include chicken or beef. A much smaller quantity, appropriate for a family supper, is an easy assemble. Gumbo freezes well, preferably without the seafood.

Nathalie Dupree is the author of 13 cookbooks, most recently the James Beard award-winning “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking.” She lives in Charleston and may be reached through

Okra and Shrimp Gumbo

Serves 8-10


1/3 cup pork lard, chicken fat, or vegetable oil

10 cups sliced okra (3 pounds) sliced 1/4 inch thick, 4 cups reserved

2 cups chopped onions

1 cup chopped green bell pepper

2 cups chopped celery

10 cups shrimp or chicken stock, divided use (see cook’s note)

3 cups fresh or canned chopped tomatoes, 1 cup reserved

1 tablespoon white pepper

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons black pepper

6 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 pound andouille, kielbasa, or other smoked sausage, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch slices (optional)

21/2 to 31/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled

11/2 quarts shucked oysters (optional)

1 pound crabmeat (optional)

1 cup chopped scallion or green onion greens


1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

16 cups cooked grits

Green hot sauce


Cook’s note: Clam juice is a substitute for shrimp stock.

Heat the fat in a very large heavy-bottomed pot. Add 6 cups okra and stir over medium-high heat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the okra is browned. Add the onions, bell pepper and celery and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to prevent scorching.

Add 2 cups shrimp stock and cook for 5 minutes, stirring and scraping often. Stir in 2 cups of the tomatoes and cook another 10 minutes, stirring and scraping as needed. Add another 4 cups stock and cook 5 minutes more. Stir in the white pepper, cayenne pepper, black pepper, garlic and oregano. Add the rest of the stock, stirring well. Bring to a boil, add the optional sausage, return to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 2 cups of the reserved 2 okra and cook for 5 minutes. Add the shrimp, optional oysters, optional crabmeat and scallion greens. Season with salt to taste and bring just to a boil and cook only enough to cook the seafood. Skim any fat from surface. Add the lemon juice to taste and the remaining okra and tomatoes. Do not let the gumbo come back to a boil, but heat through.

Serve with the grits or rice and green hot sauce.