Okra Soup

This soup is an old Charleston favorite. Nothing fancy, it is cooked all day and served at night with the ever-present pot of steaming hot white rice. Some cooks throw a “soup bunch” into the pot while the shank boils. Sold in predominately black neighborhood grocery stores, the bunch is an elaborate bouquet garni of mixed vegetables and aromatics for the soup pot. A typical soup bunch includes a carrot, celery, thyme, cabbage, and turnips with their greens. It is usually cooked with a shank for several hours, then thyme, turnips, and potatoes are added to finish the hearty winter soup.


  • 1 large, meaty beef shank bone
  • 3 quarts water
  • 3 pounds okra, trimmed and cut into small pieces
  • 3 pounds fresh or canned tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 1½ cups)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig or ½ teaspoon dried salt to taste


Place the shank in a large stockpot and cover with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours or until the meat is tender. Add the okra, tomatoes, onion, herbs, and salt; cook for another 2 hours. Fresh, hot green bird’s eye peppers are traditionally picked just before the soup is served. The pepper is mashed in the bowl before the soup is added. Rice and corn bread accompany the meal.