In 40 years of writing cookbooks, I never made gumbo for a simple reason: I never liked okra!
I had only encountered it heavily breaded and deep-fried, or else cooked down to a slimy mess in soup. But then at a farmers market in the midst of okra season, friends shamed me into making shrimp gumbo.
I discovered that okra can be pretty good, and its color, texture and body are what make it essential to gumbo. As a nutritionist, I also appreciate its folate, calcium and potassium content — and especially its fiber. Those using fiber supplements like psyllium husks should consider getting better cholesterol and blood sugar management from okra at a much cheaper price.
While I was busy searching nutrition books for health benefits of okra, the cholesterol in shrimp became the dominant topic.
Though some people think shrimp are high in cholesterol, the truth is that among animal protein sources, they're a cholesterol bargain. Only scallops have a lower cholesterol count.
The predominant alpha form of cholesterol in shrimp will not have any effect on total cholesterol levels made in the liver for needed hormones and cell metabolism. Years ago, the American Heart Association gave shrimp a bad reputation but that was because physicians writing the cholesterol guidelines believed everyone ate only fried shrimp. As a member of that committee more than 35 years ago, I could not convince them that boiled and steamed shrimp were healthy alternatives.
This Shrimp & Okra Gumbo recipe was so popular among my friends, I had to make a double recipe a second night so there was enough for lunch the next day.
But a word of caution for okra lovers with a history of kidney stones: The plant contains oxalic acid in its leaves and pods. So indulging in this treat brought to the United States during the African slave trade should be limited.
Betty Wedman-St Louis is a licensed nutritionist and environmental health specialist in Pinellas County who has written numerous books on health and nutrition. Visit her website at betty-wedman-stlouis.com.