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  • Writer's pictureChef Kelly Unger

Okra is in season + a look at the Macedonia Region of Greece

Okra is part of the mallow botanical family and produces a gorgeous yellow flower on a tall stalk under which the okra pods grow. It is a delicacy in Greece. It should be everywhere really because okra is harvested by hand. The okra pods are best when they are no more than two inches long so harvesting is a little tedious.

Okra is grown in the Macedonia region of Greece. Macedonia is on the northern mainland border of Greece next to Albania, Bulgaria and the country of Macedonia. It also has several peninsulas jutting out from its mainland and has several rivers and lakes, providing lots of fresh water fish in addition to the bounty of the sea. This region is Greece’s fruit bowl, particularly peaches, and the country’s primary large scale farming area as well. Saffron is also grown here and has been since the 17th, and this variety is sought after for its intense flavor.

The Greeks enjoy their okra stewed in oil with onions and tomatoes. The other very popular way to stew okra is with potatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant and mint. Before cooking, the okra is marinated in vinegar and salt to soften it. Okra is also pickled to preserve this painstaking harvest.

Stewed Vegetables with Okra

Recipe from Culinaria Greece

1 lb small, fresh okra

½ cup vinegar

1 lb potatoes, peeled and sliced

1 zucchini sliced

1 eggplant sliced

2 bell peppers (red and yellow) cut into strips

3-4 tomatoes, peeled and diced

2 onions, roughly chopped

1 cup Greek olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash the okra, remove the stalks, and drain. Marinate for 30 minutes in a bowl with salt and vinegar. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the potatoes with the remaining vegetables. Mix in the mint, olive oil, salt and pepper, {and the drained okra} and pour into an ovenproof dish. Pour water over the vegetables and cook in the preheated oven for about 90 minutes.

In the heat of summer, this dish and many vegetable dishes in Macedonia are prepared in the early morning and then refrigerated to be served later. With the exception of meat, cold food is eaten during the hot summer months. And even meat dishes are not generally eaten hot but left to cool before being served.

Macedonia is also a wine growing region so stuffed grape leaves are also a popular dish here. A collective of tradition conscious winemakers have formed a collective in the region, committed to preserving the regional grape varieties, such as Xinomavro. They’ve also created a wine trail to help promote cultural tourism in the area.

Finally, Macedonia is host to the annual Anastenaria festival on May 21st. The name probably comes from the word “to sigh”, which makes sense since the highlight of the festival is the “dance on glowing embers” or, as we would call it, walking on fire. It is seen as a demonstration of deep faith and courage.

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