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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John, I have never cooked with okra. I have to try your recipe , it looks healthy and easy to make. Thank you and stay safe.
Hi Gerlinde, outside of the south in the US, okra isn't as popular as it should be. Probably most used in gumbo. Bet you'll like it -- just remember not to overcook it. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Okra is only rarely on my mind, and mostly in African or Louisiana recipes. This is an interesting departure from what I am accustomed to doing.
be well... mae at maefood.blogspot.com
Hi Mae, okra is one of those sleeper veggies that once you start looking for it, you'll be surprised how prevalent is. Love it in Indian curries! And this dish, too, of course. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I haven't had okra in years--this dish looks tasty!
Hi Pam, it IS tasty! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I always love the little cute veggie okra. This looks so fresh and tasty, John. Thanks for sharing another wonderful recipe with us.
Hi Angie, okra looks great, doesn't it? And we really like its flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.
We grow okra in the summer and eat it fairly often. Since I am severely southern the jury is still out on this I'm my mind. I will try if before the okra stops producing.
This is genius as I frankly had no idea what to do with okra I grew this year other than bread and fry! I discovered some Indian dishes and have added to stir fries. Can’t wait to add this to my okra arsenal ! I pickled the last little bunch alongside my cucumbers and a few jalapeños. Since harvest time is drawing to an end it’s good to know you used frozen with success.
Hi Anne, I'd be curious to hear what you think of this. Really different from the way that I'd guess you typically cook okra. Good, though. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Susan, I wouldn't use frozen okra for breading and frying, but if you cook it quickly like this it works well. Or frozen is great in gumbo. BTW, fried okra is terrific, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.
This is a lovely dish John as a main, side or anything in between. I know some people are not okra lovers but we are. This recipe needs to get on our menu plan.
Hi Bobbi, okra is good stuff, isn't it? And it's great in a dish like this when it's lightly cooked (not overcooked). Thanks for the comment.
I wish I had grown some okra this year. Lovely seasonal dish! I miss the farmers markets but may have to brave it to get some okra!
Hi Debra, we have a farmers market pretty close to us that isn't too, too crowded. So that's where we get ours. Frozen,though, for this dish because the frozen works pretty well. Thanks for the comment.
This looks great, I don't recall seeing frozen okra in our grocery store but it does sound so convenient.
Hi Pat and Dahn, okra grows best in really warm(hot!) weather, so you may not have much of a local supply. But check out the frozen veggies. :-) Thanks for the comment.
There are but few ingredients difficult to access in Australia . . . okra seems to be one of them. Have cooked with it, mainly trying Louisiana recipes but homework is needed to appreciate . . . meanwhile yours looks like a beautifully fresh and colourful offering !
Hi Eha, okra would probably grow pretty well in Australia (it loves sun, and your have plenty of that in the summer), but I'm not surprised it's not that popular a veggie. Can be hard to find in the US too (outside of the freezer case!). Thanks for the comment.
Haha love your conversation with you and Mrs. Kitchen Riffs :) Hilarious!
Love this dish!
Hi Ashley, we do enjoy writing those endings. :-) Thanks for the comment.
okra is our staple veggie. We eat okra a lot. This mediterranean style is something our family will love.
love your photos john.
oh dear oh dear you have me here! i don't like okra and i don't like tomatoes. but i do love beans!!:) Love your fun riffs with the Missus.
You take such beautiful photos, I love these colors! I have never tried okra, but this must be yum☺
Hi Priya, there's SO much you can do with okra, isn't there? Hope you like this! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Sherry, hey, we can't all like everything! That's one of the reasons why we do those endings -- if you don't like the recipe, you might like those. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Natalia, we LOVE colorful food! As you can tell. :-) Thanks for the comment.
John, we love okra! I make a warm dish similar to this with okra, tomatoes and corn, but I've never added beans. This will be a new spin for us, and we will definitely try this beautiful dish!
Hi Marcelle, okra and corn are terrific together! Bet you'll like okra with beans, too. :-) Thanks for the comment.
That looks so vibrant, great side dish to anything meaty
Hi Raymund, it is! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I have never cooked okra beyond a curry and a stir fry. I love tomatoes and beans and your Mediterranean flavours have just set the mood wanting to make this. Fabulous post. I learn so much from your blog. Thanks and loved those Mrs.Kitchen Riff's lines too!
Hi Hasin, this is definitely a different way to use okra. It's really good stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I've never been big on okra, but I imagine fresh out of the garden would make a huge difference. I usually roast them, which is also good. Really a pretty dish.
Hi Mimi, I've never had roasted okra! Sounds wonderful. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I'd serve this yummy recipe as a side dish! I need to shake up my menus and this is perfect!
Oh my God, "mucilaginous!" Thanks for introducing me to my new favorite word. And that is indeed a great way to describe overcooked okra.
Hi Liz, this is definitely something different. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Jeff, long-cooked okra is good in gumbo, but that's about its only use. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Okra has just returned to the late summer market - and I noted we still have some frozen form the spring. This looks great, especially with the addition fo the beans. This will be nice for one of our lunches this week.
Hi David, okra is so tasty, isn't it? Not nearly as popular as it should be! Thanks for the comment.
A great dish, John! I love okra in everything.
My wife loves okra, i am sure she is going to love this recipe. We have just started using white beans in our curry, is cannelleni and large lima beans same
Hi Balvinder, okra is such good stuff, isn't it? Love its flavor! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Rahul, white beans are basically more like kidney beans -- lima beans are quite different. But lima beans might work in this -- interesting idea. Thanks for the comment.
Although I like okra, I can't say it's ever something I crave. This recipe definitely has me doing a change of heart on that. ;)
Hi Carolyn, we don't eat okra all that often, but when we do, always wonder why we don't make it more! It's good stuff, when properly cooked. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love okra.
Hi R, it's good, isn't it? And really lovely in this dish. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Virtual or not, I'll always be in for a Mediterranean holiday involving beautiful food like this! :-) ~Valentina
Hi Valentina, going to be awhile before we can travel, alas, so we'll have to do it through our stomachs. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Well John, being raised in the Southern US, okra and tomatoes are a comfort food for me. We only see frozen here, so that would be our way to roll. I love this new version. A must try and soon...
Hi Ron, okra and tomatoes are great together! Bet you'll enjoy this riff on that classic combo. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I'm an okra fan and have made something similar. However, I don't think I could have come up with the word"mucilaginous" on my own! GREG
Hi Greg, that's a good word, isn't it? SO descriptive. Too descriptive, maybe. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This would make such a fabulous meatless Monday entree... rich and savory with so much hearty flavor!
Hi Heidi, even though we eat meat a lot, we probably eat meatless much more often. Monday or not. :-) Thanks for the comment.
How delightful and healthy I have never cooked okra well but you have perfected it in this dish which is so Mediterranean. How pretty and tasty.
Hi Merryn, okra is good stuff! Do have to be careful cooking it, though. Thanks for the comment.
A slice of good bread, a glass of wine, and this would make a lovely lunch.
What a great way to use and enjoy okra! This looks like a lovely dish.
I did a photoshoot several years ago and the client wanted the interesting shape of okra, I’d never used it previously. What an unpleasant surprise, the slime was revolting. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to stomach it since, but I certainly give this a try if you’re offering.
Hi Amalia, it would! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Amy, the flavor of the okra really shines in this! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Eva, okra CAN be really unpleasant if overcooked. It does have a great shape, though, doesn't it? Thanks for the comment.
If you can believe it, John, okra with tomatoes is one of my kids' favorite dishes! Love the addition of the cannellini beans!
Hi Kelly, I can believe it -- they pair so well. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I just prepared your recipe and it's delicious! I'm vegan and loved it with the beans, while my omnivore husband crisped up some prosciutto which he added to his portion. I didn't have enough fresh okra, so I added two shishitos and cut the tomato portion in half. Fire roasted ones were great. We ate it over farro. A great meal. Next year...more okra! This winter I'll make it with frozen.
Hi Susan, glad you enjoyed it! And I like the idea of adding crispy prosciutto. :-)
I love the ingredients in this dish. I has been a long time since I have eaten okra. I am going to have to give this one a try.
Hi Dawn, we don't eat okra that often, but always enjoy it when we do! Thanks for the comment.
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