Adding white beans to this classic braised dish makes for a quick main course
How about a Mediterranean holiday? Virtual, of course.
This Mediterranean-Style Okra and Tomatoes dish features garlic, thyme, and fresh basil. It’s basically a quick braise. Adding white beans makes it a complete vegetarian meal, perfect for weeknight dinner.
So we can’t travel to the Mediterranean? No worries. The flavors can still travel to our kitchens.
Recipe: Mediterranean-Style Okra and Tomatoes
Okra and tomatoes are a common pairing in cuisines throughout the world. It’s a popular dish in the southern part of the US (typically cooked with bacon or other pork). In Greece, it’s often cooked with lamb. In India, it’s typically a vegetarian dish flavored with curry spices.
We use frozen okra in this recipe because it’s good quality and convenient. (See Notes if you prefer to use fresh okra.) Frozen okra loses a bit of crunch when cooked, but that’s not a problem in a braise like this.
One cautionary note about okra: Do not overcook it. You want it to be tender, but still just a bit crisp. If you cook okra too long, the texture can become slimy and mucilaginous. We generally add okra to this dish near the end, to minimize the chance of overcooking.
Prep time for this dish is about 10 minutes. Cooking adds another 20 minutes or so.
This recipe yields 3 to 4 main-course servings.
Leftovers keep for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- 1 medium onion
- 3 garlic cloves (or to taste)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt for us; see Notes)
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (we prefer the petite ones)
- 1 15-ounce can white beans (we like to use cannellini)
- 1 12-ounce package of frozen sliced okra (see Notes)
- 1 big handful of fresh basil
- Peel the onion, cut it in half, then cut it into thin slices. Set aside.
- Peel the garlic, then cut it into thin slices or mince it finely. Set aside.
- Place a large frying pan on medium stovetop heat. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil. When the oil is heated (about 15 seconds, it’ll shimmer), add the sliced onion. Season to taste with salt. Sauté the onion until it becomes translucent but doesn’t brown (about 5 minutes). Add the chopped garlic and sauté for one minute. Add the red pepper flakes and dried thyme, stir to combine, then cook for about 15 seconds.
- Meanwhile, open the can of diced tomatoes.
- Open the can of white beans and pour them into a strainer or colander to drain. Rinse off the gunk they’re stored in.
- After the red pepper flakes have cooked briefly (Step 3), add the diced tomatoes and white beans to the frying pan. Stir to combine, then cook at a simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Next, add the frozen okra to the frying pan (no need to thaw it first). Cook until just tender and cooked through – 5 or 6 minutes (about half that time if using fresh okra). Do not overcook (see recipe headnote).
- Meanwhile, wash the basil and shake it dry. Mince the basil finely (we usually roll several leaves at a time into a cigar shape and cut it into chiffonade). You may want to reserve a few basil leaves for garnish.
- Taste the dish and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Right before serving, stir in the chopped basil.
- Serve, garnishing each plate with a basil leaf if you wish.
- Want brighter flavor? Stir in a tablespoon or so of freshly squeezed lemon juice right before serving.
- You can prepare this dish partially ahead of time (through Step 6). When ready to finish, bring the tomato mixture to a simmer, then proceed with Step 7 (adding the okra).
- We prefer to use sliced (not whole) frozen okra in this dish. It cooks more thoroughly – and it’s easier to eat.
- If using fresh okra, look for smaller pods: They’re generally more tender and cook a bit faster. The okra you use should be as fresh as possible, so consider purchasing it from a farmers’ market. Fresh okra will be bright green. If the okra has begun to darken, we’d skip it. To use fresh okra, just wash it, trim the stem ends, and cut it into slices.
- If you have frozen okra on hand, this dish becomes a convenient pantry recipe. Particularly if you also have a basil plant.
- Speaking of basil: We don’t think the dried stuff is worth using. If you can’t get fresh basil, substitute parsley or cilantro instead.
- Want to mix up flavors a bit? You could add some capers, black olives, and anchovies to this dish. Or dried cumin, coriander, and paprika. Maybe a bit of cinnamon as well. Or curry spices.
- You can substitute meat for beans in this dish, although that will lengthen the cooking time considerably.
- Okra probably originated in South Asia (no one really knows for sure), then spread through Arabia to parts of the Mediterranean and into Africa, particularly West Africa. From there, it spread to the New World.
- Although we treat okra as a vegetable, it’s really an edible pod of the mallow family. It’s high in dietary fiber and low in calories.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If using table salt, start with about half the amount we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
“So glad you finally made this dish,” said Mrs Kitchen Riffs. “It’s about time.”
“No, it’s about basil,” I said.
“That was herbaceously bad,” said Mrs K R.
“So it cannellini get better!” I said.
“Pun-ditry is perilous,” said Mrs K R. “Don’t gar-licking for trouble.”
Guess I better mallow out.
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