Food & Drink

Okra Pilau (AKA Limpin’ Susan)

In an excerpt from her new cookbook, Jubilee, Toni Tipton-Martin gives the classic combination of rice and okra a gentle lift

Photo: Jerrelle Guy

Sally Washington was an old-fashioned “Negro” cook, whose cooking, according to the authors of Two Hundred Years of Charleston Cooking, “was of a kind to make one speculate as to whether she was a genius in her own right or whether Charleston was gifted by the gods.” Okra Pilau was one of her specialties. Washington’s was a four-ingredient dish of ingenuity—bacon, rice, okra, and water. To dazzle guests, cooks may also add tomatoes, onions, and garlic. [Noted Gullah-Geechee author and culinary authority] Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor stirred in shrimp just to mix things up a bit.

You can call this nimble dish Limpin’ Susan, if you like; Verta says it’s a “relative” of Hoppin’ John. And just to show you how recipes change as they migrate, celebrity caterer, soul cook, and author Bob Jeffries used neither okra nor bacon, swapping in red beans and salt pork. The touch of garlic turns up the flavor a bit. The addition of chicken stock is also mine. Double the recipe to feed a crowd.—Toni Tipton-Martin

Reprinted with permission from Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin, copyright © 2019. Photographs by Jerrelle Guy. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.



  • Okra pilau (Serves 2 to 4)

    • 3 thick-cut slices bacon, cut into ¼-inch dice

    • 2 cups sliced (½-inch) fresh okra

    • ½ cup chopped onion

    • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (1 clove)

    • 1 cup long-grain rice (preferably Carolina Gold)

    • 2 cups Chicken Stock (recipe below)

    • 1 teaspoon salt

    • ½ teaspoon black pepper

  • Chicken Stock (Makes about 3 1/2 quarts)

    • 1 (5- to 6-pound) stewing hen or 3 pounds chicken bones (backs, necks, etc.)

    • 1 medium onion, quartered

    • 3 celery stalks, with leaves, ends trimmed

    • 3 bay leaves

    • ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns

    • 2 sprigs thyme or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme

    • 3 sprigs parsley


  1. In a skillet with a tight-fitting lid, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels.

  2. Add the okra to the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the onion and garlic. Cook and stir over medium heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the rice and sauté until the onion is lightly browned, about 3 minutes more. Stir in the chicken stock, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to loosen any browned bits in the bottom of the pan.

  3. Reduce the heat to the lowest temperature possible, cover the pan, and cook until the rice is tender and cooked through, about 20 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking time, use a fork to stir the bacon into the rice. Fluff lightly with a fork to serve.

  4. For the Chicken Stock:  In a large heavy stockpot, combine 5 quarts water, the chicken or bones, and onion. Cut the celery stalks in half and add them to the pot. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, and parsley. Bring the stock to just under a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer until the chicken is very tender and the broth is rich-tasting, 2 to 3 hours. The broth develops stronger flavor the longer you let it simmer. If using a whole chicken, remove the chicken from the broth, and when it’s cool enough to handle, pull off the meat and reserve it for another use. Strain the stock, let cool, and refrigerate until the fat floats to the top. Use a slotted spoon to skim off the fat and discard. Store tightly covered for up to 1 week in the refrigerator, or freeze.

  5. Note: To ensure you always have homemade stock on hand, freeze cooled stock in ice cube trays. Pop out the cubes and store them in heavy-duty freezer bags. Thaw them as needed.