Fresh okra at the store or farmers market is my personal sign of warmer weather coming soon (finally!). My mother introduced me to okra—frozen okra—when I was a child, and I always rather fancied the texture. When I found it was used in many African cuisines, it gave me a way to start cooking those cuisines. This lusty vegan stew is more than a little bit Creole influenced, with a pinch of haute French mixed up with its African origins and mixed together like only New Orleans can do. Serve it over fluffy cooked millet and some black eyed peas for a heartier entree.
small onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch dice
stalks celery, cut into 1-inch dice
yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch dice
orange bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch dice
cloves garlic, peeled, green center removed, and minced
minced fresh thyme leaves (from about 6 sprigs)
ground cayenne pepper, optional
tube (4.5 ounce) tomato paste, preferably from San Marzano
dry vermouth or dry French white wine
(28-ounce) or 4 (14.5-ounce) cans fire-roasted tomatoes
(2 cups) small or grape tomatoes, cut in half
frozen cut okra or 6 cups fresh, cut into ½-inch rings
In a large pot set over high heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute, until it gets a bit toasty.
Add the onion, scallions, celery, and bell peppers and cook, stirring, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic, salt, paprika, thyme leaves, and cayenne and stir well. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat. Add the vermouth and stir to blend.
Add the roasted tomatoes and reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the grape tomatoes, okra, bay leaves, and hot sauce, if using, and stir well. Cover and cook for 35 to 40 minutes, or until thoroughly heated through. Serve hot.