Food: A Fresh Twist on the Southern Classic, Tomatoes and Okra

Food: A Fresh Twist on the Southern Classic, Tomatoes and Okra

Chef Tom’s Food and Cooking Column appears on page 13 of the Ace print edition. Text and Photos by Chef Tom.

They took me by surprise. Lined up side by side on an unadorned McMaine Farm table, baskets of gorgeous marble-sized sun gold tomatoes and baby okra nubs basked in the morning sun. They were so perfectly paired, I could taste stewed okra and tomatoes.

I took a fresh twist on an old southern classic.

Okra and Tomatoes.

I sauteed 1/2 cup of thinly sliced onions until they started to caramelize before adding 2 minced garlic cloves.  Before the garlic browned, I deglazed the pan with 1 cup chicken stock and let it reduce by half before adding a pint of whole sun gold tomatoes, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme. To add a hint of heat without killing it with fire, I tossed a large whole serrano pepper into the skillet.  When the stock came to a boil, I reduced it to a simmer, covered the cast iron skillet, and let the tomatoes rip until they collapsed from the heat, about 15 minutes.

After removing the red pepper, I added an additional 1/2 cup chicken stock, tumbled the okra  into the orange tomato stock, tossed in a few thinly sliced lemons, covered the skillet, and braised the okra and tomatoes for 15 minutes before sliding them off the heat to rest.

For contrasting texture, I split a few of the larger okra pods, cranked a smaller cast iron skillet over high heat, and blistered them until they were crisp and charred.

After spooning the lightly stewed tomatoes and okra over scallion-studded long grained rice, I finished them  with the  blistered  okra , fresh  sun gold tomatoes, and fresh thyme.

Because I left the tiny okra nubs whole, goo wasn’t a factor. While the charred okra added crunch,  the braised tender nubs snapped and oozed delicate seedy flesh that swirled through the tangy sweet tomatoes, grounding them with familiar okra earthiness. The sliced lemons were key. With bright undertones, their subtle acidity balanced the extreme sweetness of the tomatoes.