Okra and Tomatoes

This is a family recipe. It’s very easy; there’s nothing to it, not even seasonings. All you need is a mess of okra, a medium onion, 2-3 14.5 oz cans of tomatoes, and a small amount of oil. This is simple fare, easy to prepare and it can simmer on low while you make something to go with it.

If you’re not familiar with okra — or only familiar with it frozen, battered and fried — okra is a long-season vegetable, traditional in the southern US (where there’s a longer growing season), though not indigenous. When harvesting or selecting okra, bigger is not better. Very large pods are tough, with hardening seeds, and past their prime. Look for okra that are no longer than the length of a finger, a woman’s finger, if she has small hands. The okra, when sliced, will be slimy and full of seeds. Don’t even think of de-seeding it! Everything goes into the pan. The “slime” is a natural thickener and why okra is an ingredient in gumbo and valued in soups as well.

Slice or coarsely chop the onion. Saute in a small amount of oil. Cut off the stem end of the okra pods and slice into rounds between 1/4 to 1/2″.

Add canned tomatoes, breaking up the tomatoes with a spatula or spoon. Add the sliced okra, stirring to mix well. The number of cans of tomatoes depends on the amount of okra. (See pic.) I never use more than one onion though. Simmer, covered, on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until okra is done and tender. (Probably about a half hour, depending on amount of okra and stove temperature setting.) Serve as a side dish. Salt and pepper to taste.

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You can, of course, do more with this: add herbs, other vegetables, use it as a jumping off point for making a vegetarian gumbo or a tomato-based soup, etc. I like it plain: just okra, tomatoes and onion because it tastes like summer, like home and family. I wasn’t taught much about cooking when I was growing up — and I was a danger to myself when it came to slicing or chopping — but I stirred the okra and tomatoes while the adults prepared other food. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. 🙂

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