Hey guys! I’m finally back with a recipe post, as promised. Today it’s a quick Arabic-inspired okra stew. Growing up in Texas, we used to always eat okra stir fried. Honestly, I don’t even know if this is the right term. All I know is that my mom would grab some emerald green pods from the garden, chop them into disks, and pan fry them with a bit of onion, tomato, oil and corn meal.
Sometimes simple things are the best, and this okra method was no exception. Magically, the orka would take on a texture somewhere between crunchy and soft. It was never slimy, and so much healthier than the deep-fried okra so popular in the South.
It wasn’t until moving away from home and doing some traveling in the Middle East that I was introduced to stewed okra. At first I didn’t think I’d like it–figured the slimy texture would put me off– but I was wrong. Stewed okra is just another way to love this versatile veggie. Especially over a big pile of basmati rice. Sign me up now, ya’ll!
Regarding okra, I used to be a bit of a purist. Only freshly picked pods from the garden (if we had one that year) for this girl. Farm stand okra is popular in Texas, and it would do in a pinch. If we did buy it from the regular grocery store, we’d always take our time to pick out the smallest, most flavorful pods. The bigger the pod, the higher the odds that it’d be tough and maybe even bitter. Now that I live in the big city, where gardens are in short supply and farmers’ markets in high demand, I’m a bit more flexible.
Since okra’s technically not even in season yet, this time I took the plunge and bought a bag of frozen okra that had already been cut. It was on sale for $1.50. I wasn’t sure if I’d like the result of a quickie okra stew with Arabic spices, but I was pleasantly surprised. Now I’m wishing I’d bought a second bag of the frozen okra, so that I could play around with some different flavors. Next time for sure!
This super simple okra stew recipe took all of 20 minutes. Now if you want a softer, more tender okra, cook it until it reaches your desired tenderness. For all the purists out there, this isn’t the exact classic Arabic style okra. It is a quick approximation. I’ll post a more traditional recipe as okra comes into season in the coming months. For that matter, a Persian take on okra stew will get its moment in the sun as well. For now, with the bargain-priced frozen okra, here we go:
20 Minute Arabic Inspired Okra Stew (Bamiyeh)
Serves 2-4. Doubles easily.
1-2 teaspoons of good olive oil
1 16 ounce bag of frozen, sliced okra
1 medium onion
2 large garlic cloves
Arabic Spice Blend-a scant teaspoon each of powdered cumin, coriander, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, cloves. Plus 1/2 teaspoon each of powdered cinnamon and ginger.
1 Bay leaf
1 14-16 ounce can of whole or chopped tomatoes (low sodium, please!)
1-2 cups of vegetable stock or chicken stock (low sodium again, please!)
Salt and pepper to taste (not giving exact amounts, because this will vary depending on your taste and the amount of salt in your tomatoes and/or stock)
1. In a medium Dutch oven, heat olive oil over a low flame.
2. As oil heats, chop onion into a small dice. Finely mince garlic or cut into pieces. (If mincing, I prefer to use a grater)
3. Add onion to oil, and cook over a medium low heat for five minutes. Add garlic and all spices, and cook for another 30 seconds to one minute, just until spices’ aroma starts to bloom. Turn off flame and remove from heat.
4. Add okra pods and tomatoes. If using who canned tomatoes, use the back of your cooking spoon or spatula to break them into pieces. Mix everything well. Add in about one cup of stock, and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Place back on the burner, crank up the heat to high, and get the mixture to a boil. As soon as it comes to a boil, drop down the heat and simmer ten minutes on a very low flame. After ten minutes, check the spices and tenderness of the okra. If you desire a more tender okra texture, continue to cook until that desired texture is reached, adding in stock or water as needed if the mixture starts to dry out.
6. Serve over basmati rice and enjoy!