Stewed Okra (Bamia)

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Have you seen okra in the market and wondered what to do with it? Wonder no more–this is my favorite way to make okra.

This recipe started off a little different. A friend from Texas explained to me that the Soul Food way to make okra was to saute onion, garlic and green pepper, then add okra and tomato sauce. I heard from someone from India that a good way to make okra is to marinate it first with garlic, lemon and oil and then fry it. I combined the two ideas and ended up with something that resembles the Middle Eastern way of cooking okra with a lemony tomato sauce.

The difference between my recipe and the usual bamia recipe is the step of marinating the okra before cooking it. I think this improves the texture of the okra. It definitely gets the lemon garlic flavor all the way into the okra, which is a good thing in itself. It is generally believed that adding acid like lemon to okra and frying it prevents that slippery texture okra is known for sometimes getting.

Why eat okra? This is a misunderstood and under-appreciated vegetable that happens to be extremely nutritious, being rich in fiber, vitamins and anti-oxidants. It is said that the fiber in okra is good for stabilizing blood sugar, normalizing cholesterol levels and encouraging good bacteria in the gut.

Stewed Okra (Bamia)

1 lb. okra
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2-1 lemon
olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pot)
salt, pepper, to taste
16 ounces canned tomato sauce (if you have the smaller 8 ounce can, that will work, too)
optional: a pinch of cumin

First, some advice about buying okra. The okra should be small and tender. Avoid large okra because it can be fibrous and tough. Look for the smallest possible okra–the size of your little finger (pinky) is ideal. Digression: did you know that okra is also known as “Lady’s Fingers”? Any okra that looks too large to be a lady’s finger is probably going to be tough and woody.

Carefully trimming the okra is the next step and careful attention should be paid here, too. Carefully trim off the top of the okra so that you have removed all the fibrous stem, but don’t remove so much from the top that you expose the seeds on the inside of the okra (this post illustrates what I am talking about). Cut a slit on the side of each piece.

Place the trimmed okra in a bowl with the juice of half a lemon (or a whole lemon if the lemon is small or not so juicy), the garlic and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Let this marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or so.

When you are ready to cook the okra, saute the onion and green pepper in olive oil in a saucepan or Dutch Oven until the onion starts to get brown. Add the marinated okra and saute until the okra gets tender. Add the tomato sauce and simmer until the okra is very soft. The okra should turn a darker green and have a melting tenderness. Adjust seasoning to taste. If you are using canned tomato sauce, you won’t likely need to add salt, but you might want to add a little ground black pepper, perhaps more lemon juice, maybe even a pinch of cumin.

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2 Responses to “Stewed Okra (Bamia)”

  1. Irene Saiger Says:

    I love okra and I watched and was taught how to make it by an old Egyptian friend. She used to saute onions and garlic and add the tomato sauce and whole okra. Then she put it in the oven till it was very tender but she always said the key was not to stir it so the okra stays whole. This looks great too!

    • pragmaticattic Says:

      Oh, very interesting! Baking it is a great idea because then you don’t have to worry about it burning on the bottom if you don’t give the pot a regular stir. I have to give that a try next time I make okra. Thank you for sharing that, Irene.

      ________________________________

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