Classic Okra and Tomatoes

Okra and tomatoes are a centuries-old pairing. It's a remarkable union of late-summer flavors that comes from using peak-season produce: vibrant fresh-picked okra and plump ripe tomatoes still firm enough to hold their shape when simmered.

Active Time:
35 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 15 mins
4 servings

If the only way you've tried okra is fried, as Clairee says in Steel Magnolias, it may be time to "broaden your horizons." When your summer garden gifts you with a bounty of bright green okra pods, rescue a pound from the fryer and try this easy and delicious recipe for stewed okra and tomatoes. Served over rice, it's a hearty Southern side dish that can easily pull double duty as a meatless main dish.

While there are plenty of fans of grilled okra and pickled okra out there, many folks prefer it fried due to okra's famously slimy texture. While there are ways to minimize this slipperiness, you won't even notice it in this dish. In fact, the sugars that give okra its characteristic texture help thicken this dish, making it the perfect consistency for spooning over rice, like a meatless gumbo.

Classic Okra and Tomatoes in bowls overhead

Monica Farber/Southern Living

How to Make Okra & Tomatoes

If you can boil water, then you can make this dish. All you need is a big pot for boiling the okra; you can finish simmering the okra with the tomatoes in the same pot. Let's get started!

Step 1. Boil the Okra

To help the okra get nice and tender, it needs a quick boil. Fill a stock pot or Dutch oven halfway full with water, and bring it to a boil. Add one pound of whole okra pods, and boil until the okra is tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the okra, and let it cool completely, about 30 minutes.

a stainless steel stock pot full of boiling water and okra
Monica Farber/Southern Living

PREP TIP: While the okra is boiling, go ahead and chop the onion and bell pepper.

Step 2. Slice the Okra

Once the okra is cool enough to handle, get out your favorite knife and slice up the okra. This isn't rocket science, but aim for about ¼-inch-thick pieces so they'll finish cooking consistently. Throw away the okra stems—they're edible, but too tough to be described as "a pleasure to eat."

Chopped okra on a cutting board and whole okra in a colander
Monica Farber/Southern Living

PRO TIP: Bigger isn't better when it comes to okra; smaller pods are more tender.

Step 3. Start Building the Flavor

Here's where the flavor comes in. Heat up ¼ cup of bacon drippings in a skillet, then add one chopped sweet onion and one chopped green bell pepper. Let that cook, stirring every now and then, until the veggies start to soften, about 6 minutes.

Onions and celery being sauteed in a pan.
PRO TIP: Bigger isn't better when it comes to okra; smaller pods are more tender.

PRO TIP: Keep stash of leftover bacon grease in a jar in the fridge to quickly build big flavor.

Step 4. Time for the Tomatoes

Now it's time to build on the flavor base we've started. Add the canned tomatoes (and their juices), sugar, salt, pepper, lemon wedges, and the okra. Give everything a good stir, then reduce the heat, cover, and let it simmer for 10 minutes.

Tomatoes being stirred into okra in a pan.
Monica Farber/Southern Living

PRO TIP: Use quality canned tomatoes, such as San Marzano, for a big flavor impact.

Step 5. Slurry in a Hurry

While the okra simmers, you've got plenty of time to stir up a slurry—a mixture of flour and water—that will help thicken this dish. In a small bowl, stir together one tablespoon of cold water and one tablespoon of all-purpose flour until smooth. Use a fork or a small whisk to help the flour dissolve into the water more easily.

A small glass bowl filled with a mixture of cornstarch and water
Monica Farber/Southern Living

PRO TIP: It's important to use cold water; hot water will cause the flour to clump together.

Step 6. The Pot Thickens

Uncover the okra mixture, and drizzle the water-flour mixture into the pot. Give it a good stir, and let the pot simmer for a few more minutes until the okra mixture is nice and thick. Remove the pan from the heat; let it cool just a bit before spooning the mixture over rice.

A creamy mixture of cornstarch and water being stirred into a pan of okra and tomatoes.
Monica Farber/Southern Living

PRO TIP: Stir the dish constantly at this stage to help it thicken to the desired consistency.

7. Serve & Enjoy!

Cook up a batch of your favorite rice, and divide it among shallow serving bowls. Spoon over the warm okra and tomato mixture, and be sure to serve with your favorite cornbread!

okra and tomatoes overhead in bowls
Monica Farber/Southern Living

Can I Use Frozen Okra Instead of Fresh?

Fresh okra is the best bet for this recipe, but frozen will work in a pinch. Skip the boiling step; let the frozen okra thaw completely, then drain it to reduce any excess moisture. Add it to the tomato mixture as directed in step 3.

Can I Use Fresh Tomatoes Instead of Canned?

The problem with fresh tomatoes is the peels. If you have homemade canned tomatoes that are already peeled, they would be delicious in this recipe! If all you have are fresh tomatoes, follow our tips for removing the peels in our guide to freezing tomatoes; just skip the freezing step.

Can I Leave Out the Bacon Drippings?

Sure! Whether you're looking to eat healthier or make this dish entirely vegetarian, you can replace the bacon drippings with olive oil, butter, or the fat of your choice.


  • 1 pound fresh okra

  • 1/4 cup bacon drippings

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped

  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1 teaspoon table salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1 lemon, cut in wedges

  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon water


  1. Cook the okra in boiling water to cover in a saucepan 10 minutes or until tender; drain, cool completely (about 30 minutes).

  2. Cut the okra into ¼-inch-thick slices, discarding the stems.

  3. Heat the bacon drippings in a saucepan over medium-high; add the onion and bell pepper, and sauté 6 minutes or until tender. Add the tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper, lemon, and okra. Reduce heat to medium; cover and simmer 10 minutes.

  4. Stir together the flour and 1 tablespoon water until smooth; add the okra mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, 2 or 3 minutes or until thickened.


Recipe Revival: Southern Classics Reinvented for Modern Cooks (2016; Time Inc. Books)

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