Food & Drink

Okra Soup

Chef B.J. Dennis shares his recipe for gumbo’s Lowcountry cousin

Photo: Wade Spees

“The only constant is change,” is a cliché that’s routinely slapped on a dining scene that welcomes new restaurants on a weekly basis as Charleston does. But it’s perhaps more accurate to say Charleston’s constant is okra soup. Although gumbo’s Lowcountry cousin is rarely referenced in the city’s fanciest restaurants, it’s still served in homes and affordable luncheonettes, which is why B.J. Dennis, a personal chef and caterer, believed it deserved a page in New Charleston Cuisine. Dennis’ version of the traditional soup is made with shrimp, rather than beef, which usually governs the tomato broth. But disagreeing about tradition is a local constant too.


    • ½ pound of smoked meat, such as pork or turkey (optional)

    • 2 pounds fresh tomatoes, diced, or one 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes

    • 5 cloves garlic

    • 1 hot pepper

    • 1 bay leaf

    • 3 to 4 thyme sprigs

    • 1 pound okra

    • 1 small onion

    • ½ pound fresh butterbeans, shelled

    • Salt, to taste

    • ½ pound of shrimp, cleaned


  1. If using smoked meat, add it to pot with tomato, garlic, hot pepper, bay leaf and thyme. Pour water over meat to just cover. Cook over medium-high heat until meat is tender.

  2. Slice okra into half-inch pieces. Dice onion. Add okra, butterbeans, and onions to pot; cook until okra is tender, approximately 10-15 minutes.

  3. Salt shrimp and add to pot. Cook shrimp for 2-3 minutes. Salt to taste throughout cooking process. Serve with rice.

Excerpted from New Charleston Cuisine: 50 Defining Dishes from the Holy City’s Top Kitchens, by Hanna Raskin. Recipe by B.J. Dennis