This is Maw Maw Gertie’s smothered okra and tomatoes. It’s a country Cajun dish that I loved so much as a child. I know, I know everyone was expecting me to share all those wonderful Italian dishes I learned to make in Italy last month. I planned on sharing grilled abergines (eggplants) with mint and garlic. A delicious recipe that I stole from Giuseppina and Rosario, an amazing Sicilian couple I met near Cefalu. I tried, honestly. I tried and tried and tried but the taste just wasn’t the same. Yesterday I realized the problem. I was breaking the main rule of all Italians. I was not using fresh, homegrown ingredients. I searched high and low for abergines at the farmer’s markets. I even drove 45 miles away looking for them and all I could find were fresh tomatoes, okra, corn, bell peppers, and cucumbers and that’s when it hit me. To cook like an Italian, you must use the freshest vegetables that are in season and available at the time. So instead of cooking like an Italian grandmother, I had to cook like a Cajun grandmother using Italian principles. Fresh is best.
Stay tuned to future posts to learn how to grill the BEST eggplants you’ll ever eat and hear the story of us having a beautiful dinner with my Sicilian friends the Castelli family. They also rent villas by the sea and provide a unique Sicilian experience that will make you fall in love with Sicily. Check them out at: bellasiciliavacations.com
I think it was my experience with the Castellis (Nona and Pop Pop) that reminded me of the importance of family traditions and especially family recipes. Because like both of my grandmothers, the Castellis didn’t seem to measure or use written recipes. Cooking at home is just something they do everyday and know by heart. It’s what brings families together, and most of my childhood memories center around good, homegrown food cooked by my grandmothers. It’s a part of my family that I want to share with my grandchildren someday. Via this blog, my family traditions can be passed down to my children, grandchildren and our family’s future. In the next few months I will be sharing all that I learned on my journey through Italy, but I can’t leave behind my Cajun roots either. Therefore, intermingled with Italian recipes, there will be my Cajun family recipes, and of course, I’ll be sharing my healthy creations. For now, check out Maw Maw Gertie’s smothered okra and tomatoes!
Start with the freshest ingredients:
Chop the okra with a sharp knife. The knife should glide through the okra with ease. If it doesn’t, the okra is too hard. I throw those pieces away because that means it either stayed too long on the vine or too long in the fridge. Okra, as with any fresh vegetable, should be used as soon as you pick it or buy it because you will get a better taste and a healthier dish. The longer it sits, the more nutrients it loses.
Don’t put all the vegetables in the skillet like this at first. First oil your skillet. I use very little olive oil because I have this amazing skillet that cooks anything without oil. Check it out here: http://masterclad.tv/ This skillet saves me tons of calories, but if you don’t have one, you will need to add a little more oil as you cook. First, start with the chopped okra. Stir it until all the slime goes away and then add the chopped onion. Grandma also added a little green bell pepper to hers, but I didn’t have any so I left it out. Cook this until the onions and okra are tender. Then, add a fresh chopped tomato. I removed the tomato skins in hot water. Use salt and black pepper to season it, but I couldn’t tell you how much because Maw Maw just sprinkled, stirred, and then tasted to see if it was enough. Cook this until the dish becomes a little saucy and smothery. That’s my description of how it should look because I’m not sure of a cook time (Sorry, it’s a Cajun thing), probably about 20 minutes, but it depends on the okra. Some varieties cook faster. If the okra has been picked while it is very young, the cook time will be less. Just do like my Cajun Grandmother and use your eyes and mouth to cook. Don’t forget to taste it before serving because it may need more salt and pepper.
You can serve this with roasted chicken or grilled fish. Sometimes my Maw Maw cooked the chicken in the same pot with the okra, but I usually make mine a vegetarian dish. For those in my house that eat chicken, they will usually get James’ grilled chicken on the side. The Italians; however, would not allow the meat and vegetables on the same plate! Each dish has to have its own clean plate.
- 2½ cups okra, chopped
- 1 large tomato, skinned, chopped
- 1 medium onion
- ½ green bell pepper, finely chopped
- olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a large skillet, add chopped okra.
- Cook until the slime has disappeared.
- Add the chopped onion and bell pepper.
- Cook until onion, bell pepper and okra are tender. The onion should be translucent and the bell pepper really soft.
- Add the fresh tomato. I skin my tomato by placing it in hot water for a minute. The peelings should come right off.
- Cook until the vegetable mixture is smothered and saucy. Do not add water. You may need to add a little more oil if your vegetables are sticking to the skillet. I use very little oil because I have a super-duper nonstick skillet.