Simple stewed okra recipe that is few in ingredients but big on flavor for a classic Southern side dish.
If I go to a “soul food” joint and stewed okra ain’t on the menu, I’m already suspicious of said joint. I ain’t saying you have to have it on your menu to be considered legit, I’m just saying you got more to prove to me aka the soul food snob!
In my experience, stewed okra flavor begins with bacon. Bacon is usually the first ingredient in the pan and then the onions and garlic are sautéed in the grease before the other ingredients are layered in. I decided to ax the bacon to make a true plant-based vegan version. The other reason I went without bacon was to keep that fresh okra flavor which tends to get lost in the midst of that glorious bacon. No bacon, however, meant I had to rely on a few tricks to make up for the loss in flavor from excluding it. Don’t sweat it though, this recipe got plenty of soul. You’ll dig it, no doubt!
Stewed Okra Flavor Hacks
This isn’t as hard as you may think. I did two things upfront. One smash up about 3-5 garlic cloves and slowly simmered them in olive oil for about 20 minutes along with some fresh basil and spices. Heating spices intensifies their flavors. I observed this in Indian cooking over the years and adopted this approach in my style. If you’ve ever been to an Indian restaurant or had a friend cook you a meal, the aroma of spices hit you as soon as you hit the door. When I watch my Indian friends seasoning food, it makes me think there is a culinary connection between them and my black culinary ancestors. We like our food seasoned; there is no need to add a modifier like “well;” it’s just “seasoned!”
In the past, when making stewed okra and tomatoes, I’ve borrowed from my Caribbean cousins to make up for the lack of bacon. I’ve either used a Puerto Rican style sofrito or Haitian epis, both of which rely on a salsa-like condiment featuring tomatoes, garlic, and herbs to serve as the base flavor. I got resourceful and went with the Indian option out of necessity to a certain degree as I didn’t have good fresh herbs on hand. This fewer, ingredient stew okra recipe came out just fine, if not better. If you’re the type who doesn’t like the flavor of okra, then skip to another post, cause okra is in the house; it’s the star! Try either approach if you wish and decide your preference. I’ll be going back and forth depending on the mood, vibe, and occasion.
Can I use Frozen Okra?
Stewed okra absolutely works with frozen okra. My preference is fresh, but if I need convenience or want stewed okra during off-season I will substitute the frozen pods.
Stewed Okra Cooking Tips
- Salt the okra and then toss in lemon-juice water which keeps the okra from getting all gummy when you cook them
- For more complex flavor heat spices and garlic in oil before adding the vegetables.
- When adding the tomatoes cook at high heat for them to release their juices, then quickly reduce heat to a simmer
- Feel free to use whole or sliced okra. It’s your choice, but if slicing, cut the okra thick
- Stewed okra can be made ahead and refrigerated. Reheat slowly in a saucepan.
Making Stewed Okra
If you make this vegan version of stewed okra definitely come back and let me know what you think by leaving a comment or even posting a picture on Instagram using the hashtag #foodfidelity.
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If you’re interested in other okra based recipes or just going deep on the history and health benefits of okra read my earlier post “Eat More Okra” which includes okra recipes utilizing several different techniques and flavors southern fried okra, and roasted okra.
- 1 lb okra whole or cut into 1/2 inch slices
- 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp mustard powder
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tbsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 3 medium tomatoes chopped
- 1/4 cup water
- Cut the lemon in half. Using one half squeeze the juice on the okra and let sit 5-10 minutes.
- Heat sauce pan on med-low heat. Add the olive oil, garlic, mustard powder and half of the salt, pepper, and paprika each. Let simmer for 3-4 minutes to infuse the oil with flavor.
- Heat the pan to med and add the onions and saute 3-4 minutes
- Add the okra and cook for 2 minutes, stirring a few times.
- Add the tomatoes and cook over high heat until they release their juices, about 1 minute. Add the water, cayenne, bay leaf, and remaining salt, pepper, and paprika, cover and simmer for 20 minutes stirring as often as needed. Stir in juice from the other lemon half and serve.