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Okra with Tomato Gravy

It goes with rice, grits, spoonbread, barbecue. All the Southern stars shine bright next to Okra with Tomato Gravy.

4 portions


About 40 minutes


Gravy represents the humble and universal connector in traditional Southern cooking, as in [blank] and gravy (you fill in the blank). Southerners put gravy on everything, and though gravy can’t be codified or ranked among classic French mother sauces, standout gravies are still great: red eye, buttermilk, white, brown, hot pepper, red pea. You name it. What strikes our fancy—particularly at this time of year—are the many versions of anytime, anywhere, on-anything tomato gravy. If your cooking repertoire stops at peanut butter and jelly, you can still make tomato gravy and will probably discover a Southerner (halfway into a bottle of bourbon) who swears they go together. This is a soft, mellow sauce with bits of sweet, ripe tomato and a touch of cream.

In case you’re wondering what we think goes best with tomato gravy, check out the title of this recipe. Okra, of course! Okra comes out of the same garden at the same time as tomatoes. The okra we crave is not slime and gumbo okra, but lightly steamed, brilliant green, crisp, delicate young okra—as beautiful a vegetable as you’ll ever see or eat. Of course, if you aren’t in the South, you might have to grow okra to eat the good stuff. Don’t worry, its companion gravy is equally delicious on steamed zucchini or summer squash, green beans, or, as we mentioned, PB&J. Now hand over the bourbon, would you?

equipment mise en place

For this recipe, you will need a medium skillet, a wooden spoon, a whisk, and a large, deep skillet with a lid. 

    • 2
      tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 2
      tablespoons minced shallot
    • 4
      teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
    • ½
    • 2
      pounds (6 or 7) ripe medium plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into ¼-inch dice (2 cups)
    • 4
      tablespoons fresh tomato juice or Bionaturae Organic Strained Tomatoes
    • 1 to 2
      tablespoons heavy cream
    • teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
    • teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • Fine sea salt
    • Spring or filtered water
    • 1
      pound tender young okra, stems trimmed but left on
    • 1

    In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté (fig. 1.1), stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until softened slightly and fragrant, about 40 seconds. Off heat, add the flour and stir until incorporated. Return the skillet to medium heat and cook the roux, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds. Pour the hot stock into the skillet and whisk until smooth. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes (fig. 1.2) and 3 tablespoons of the tomato juice and return to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes give off liquid and soften just slightly, about 3 minutes, adding an additional tablespoon of tomato juice if the gravy seems thick. Stir in the cream (fig. 1.4), thyme, cayenne, and ¾ teaspoon salt and continue to simmer until the sauce thickens enough to cling, about 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning, remove from the heat, and cover to keep warm while you prepare the okra.


    In a large, deep skillet, bring ¼ cup spring or filtered water to a simmer over high heat. Add the okra and ½ teaspoon salt, cover, and steam, frequently shaking the skillet, until the okra is bright green and tender and has absorbed the water, about 4 minutes.


    To serve, stack the okra on a warm platter and ladle on the tomato gravy. Serve with Popcorn Grits, Simple Buttered Carolina Gold Rice Grits, Classic Carolina Gold Rice, or any of our corn grits recipes.

    1. 1.1
    2. 1.2
    3. 1.3

A version of this recipe by the same author, Kay Rentschler, originally appeared in the New York Times.