|Doug's Home-cooked Bamiya|
Okra was frequent fare at our house when I was growing up, and I loved it.
I’ve since learned that I have a lot of company in many places, including the American South and pretty much the entire Near and Middle East.
Armenians, Greeks, Persians, Turks and Arabs all favor similar preparations and have similar names for the tomato-and-okra stew we call bamiya.
A notable exception to okra’s fan base is my wife. “It’s too slimy,” she says. I discovered early in our courtship that there was no point arguing.
I have succeeded over the years in persuading her to take an occasional taste, but only if I assure her the batch I’ve prepared is free of ooze. (I would never lie about anything as important as okra!)
The most enthusiastic reaction I’ve ever gotten is, “I guess it’s OK for what it is.” It’s not hard to figure what she means, as she’s never taken a second bite.
We rarely bother cooking anything we won’t share, so okra has become a distant memory for me—but definitely a fond one.
When I think about the rich tomato-and-okra stew we call bamiya, I picture myself running into my parents’ house on a cold winter evening and sliding my chair up to the kitchen table. Nothing could possibly be as warming or comforting as a hot ladle of bamiya poured over a mound of Mom’s pilaf and sopped up by a fat slice of fresh, crunchy bread.
We don’t have much use for winter warm-ups of any sort here in Florida, but this all came back to me in April on a chilly day in London, England.
Robyn and I took an unplanned cruise across the Atlantic and booked a few days in a London hotel as a fun finale. Just my rotten luck, I came down with the flu before the ship docked at our next-to-last port in France. By the time we reached Southampton, my fever spiked at 102.
|Bon Appetit, London|
What little I’d eaten of the hotel food was OK, but we decided something a little closer to home cooking might boost my appetite as well as my spirits.
So I got dressed, bundled up and trudged down the street. The restaurant was little more than a take-out counter, but it did have a few tables in a sparse but neat back room. The friendly young man in charge assured us that everything was made from his grandmother’s recipes. “It’s what we eat at home,” he said.
That’s just how I felt when I scanned the menu and spotted Bammieh B’zeit: “Generous chunks of okra slow-cooked with lamb, tomato, onion, fresh garlic and olive oil. Served with rice.”
|Bammieh B'zeit, London style|
I not only ordered it, I ate every bit with a smile. No, it wasn’t just like Mom’s and it didn’t cure the flu but it sure beat fish and chips!
Two weeks after returning home, we were shopping at a nearby Persian market when Robyn spotted a display of fresh okra. “Treat yourself,” she said, so I did. We bought just enough for one, and I was definitely the one. My big bowl of bamiya had me smiling again.
Before I share our simple recipe, I want to offer a few further thoughts on okra. Many cooks who share Robyn’s aversion to slime swear that soaking okra in vinegar reduces or eliminates the problem. I don’t much care for sour okra, so I don’t bother.
Others recommend cooking the okra whole, or at least in large pieces. I disagree. I find the key to reducing slime is simply to avoid overcooking, and it helps to keep the pieces small. Okra gets slippery when it breaks down, but it’s delightfully crisp when cooked until it’s just tender.
It’s essential to choose young, fresh okra. Older, bigger pods tend to be tougher and can be so fibrous you can’t chew them no matter how long they’re cooked.
Stewed Okra (Bamiya)
One half pound fresh okra, the smaller in size, the better!
One 1 cup of canned diced tomatoes (including some of its liquid)
One small onion
Salt, pepper and ground coriander to taste
Wash and dry the okra, then slice the large end from each pod just below the stem. Cut into half-inch pieces and set aside.
Slice the onion and saute in olive oil until lightly browned.
Add the tomato and its liquid.
Add the okra.
Season to taste, then simmer with lid on for 12-14 minutes. Check a piece of okra for desired tenderness and cook as desired.
You can use different seasonings if you like. Many like allspice, some prefer za'atar.
Meat is optional, lamb being preferred. It will take much longer to cook than the okra, so cook the lamb first and add it to the bamiya when ready.