This preparation is one of those that we grew up with in New Orleans and is popular as not only a staple dish in the south, but also contains the two main ingredients found fresh grown in many gardens and small farms across the southeastern states. Both okra and tomatoes require long and hot growing seasons and the south provides both in records each year. On Saturday, one of our baseball family friends Janet Begley and her family gave us a bag of their heirloom tomatoes and several bags of fresh okra they had just picked from their garden. Janet also gave us a few of their large cucumbers, and I turned them into a crisp cucumber and dill salad, more on that in another post. (NOTE: Click on images for a larger view)
Besides being a major component in gumbo, okra and tomatoes stewed down in the fashion with onions and garlic along with a few herbs like basil, thyme and oregano make a perfect side dish served along with some fresh steamed or boiled rice. Okra and tomatoes create a perfect marriage of taste and texture, similar to the romantic union of oysters and artichokes. Worlds apart, but perfect together! Smaller baby sized okra and juicy ripe tomatoes make the best of this dish, no extra liquid required with the exception of a little red wine vinegar, as the main ingredients create enough of their own juices when covered and stewed until done.
Okra tends to exude a thick slimy liquid when cut and cooked down, which is a benefit for some dishes, especially in the case of gumbo, however, many folks do not like the texture or mouth feel of the slim. Reducing the slimy effects of okra is resolved with an acid such as the juices extracted from the tomatoes, or with the addition of vinegar.
The origins of this dish in the U.S. lead back to Creole heritage, as the word ‘okra’ is also known as quibombo in Spanish, and gombo in French. Slaves from West Africa introduced okra to the Caribbean and U.S. most likely in the 1700’s, and then the Creoles in Louisiana learned to thicken soups with okra (gumbo) which is now the essential ingredient in Creole Gumbo.
If you want to keep this as a side dish and vegetarian then this preparation makes a perfect compliment with steamed or boiled brown rice. If however, you wish, an additional one pound of smoked sausage, ham or a half-pound of tasso when browned in the pan before the addition of the onions turns this into a great main dish item also served over any white or brown rice. Other variations also include an addition of shrimp toward the end of the preparation.
|2||Cups||Onions, large diced|
|3||Cups||Fresh okra, cut into ½” to ¼” slices|
|3||Cups||Tomatoes, large diced|
|½||Cup||Red wine vinegar|
|1||Tbsp||Basil, fresh chopped|
|1||Tbsp||Oregano, fresh chopped|
|½||Tbsp||Thyme, fresh chopped|
|1.||Add olive oil to a 3-quart or larger saucepan and heat over medium high temperature.|
|2.||Add the onions and sauté for a few minutes until soft and translucent then add the garlic and stir well, sauté for a few more minutes.|
|3.||Add the okra, tomatoes and red wine vinegar and stir well to incorporate. Bring to a boil.|
|4.||Add the bay leaf and fresh herbs stirring well then reduce heat to a slow simmer and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring about every 10 minutes.|
|5.||Season to taste with the salt and white pepper, and serve with steamed or boiled brown or white rice.|