How to make Bamia (Bamya), a popular Middle Eastern okra stew. This tomato and okra stew is hearty, healthy, and traditionally contains lamb (or beef). However, I've also included a vegan okra stew method, too - perfect for enjoying as a side or main.
You'll first need to prepare the beef (if using). You could also cook the vermicelli rice or rice of your choice in advance (or cook it while preparing the bamia).
Step 2: Prepare the Okra
If you're using dried okra, first rehydrate it with water and vinegar for 2 hours (you'll need 3 cups hot water per 1 cup dried okra. I use 2 ½ cups water and ½ cup vinegar – which is meant to help reduce sliminess when the okra s cooked). For fresh okra, wash and dry it well. Then slice off the stems.
In a large pan, add around 2-inches of oil (or use a deep-fryer, if you have one) and heat up. Once hot enough (you can test this by placing a wooden skewer in the oil - if it starts to bubble around the stick, the oil is ready), then fry the okra in the hot oil for several minutes until lightly browned.The easiest way to do this is to place the okra in a sieve to lower up and down from the hot oil. The okra is traditionally fried first to not become "viscous" when added to the stew.
Once cooked, transfer the okra to a layer of paper towels to absorb any excess oil.
Step 3: Prepare the Remaining Ingredients
Separate the cilantro leaves from the stems and finely chop the stems. You can transfer the leaves back to the fridge for now (these will be used at the end).
Slice the garlic and, if you're using fresh tomatoes, chop roughly and add them to a blender to process into a thick "juice."
Step 4: Sauté the Ingredients
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, deep pot (or Dutch oven). Then add the garlic and sauté over medium-low heat for 30-40 seconds. Then add the tomato paste, stir, and sauté for a further two minutes.
Add the tomato "juice" (or passata/crushed tomatoes), cilantro stems, and ground coriander seeds, and allow the mixture to simmer for 10-15 minutes to reduce and thicken.
Step 5: Add the Meat
After reducing, add the cooked beef (or lamb) and stock to the stew pan, reduce the heat to low, and then allow it to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.For the vegetarian version, omit the meat and use vegetable stock.
Step 6: Add the Okra
Add the okra to the pan and stir, cooking for 2-3 minutes. Then add the salt and pepper (to taste), stir, and cook for a further minute or two. Finally, add the cilantro leaves and lemon juice into the stew, mixing and removing it from the heat.
Serve the bamia immediately with the prepared vermicelli rice or the sides of your choice and some lemon wedges.
How to Store?
Store: allow the bamia to cool, then store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.Freeze: store the cooled stew in an airtight container/s for up to 3 months. Allow it to thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating. Just note that the okra will soften slightly upon thawing.Reheat: you can reheat the bamia/bamya on the stovetop or in the microwave until heated through. Add an extra splash of water (or stock) to bring it back to its saucy consistency, if needed.
Use a heavy-bottomedpan: or Dutch Oven. These distribute heat more evenly. That way, you're less likely to get "hot spots" and burn the bamya stew while simmering.
How to avoid slimy okra? The main steps we take to prevent slimy cooked okra is by frying it first and keeping the okra whole. However, if you are using larger, sliced, okra or skip the frying step, there are other ways to reduce the sliminess. For example, soaking the okra in vinegar for 30 minutes pre-cooking should help. As will pre-cooking the okra in other ways (other than deep-frying), such as sauteing, roasting, or blanching in boiling water.
Other top tips to reduce okra sliminess: don't cook the bamia covered at all (as the steam will cause sliminess) and try to keep the majority of "salting" of the dish to the end – as salt draws out excess liquid from the okra – hence sliminess.
Enjoying okra stew for months: as okra is only in season during the summer months, it's a good idea to buy it in bulk and store it in the freezer for the winter months. When stored in an airtight container, the okra will stay fresh for 6+ months.
Bamia ages well: I actually think this okra stew tastes even better on the second day.
Cook the okra to your preferred tenderness: if you like it really tender, feel free to increase the cooking time. Just be aware that the longer they cook, the higher chance of more sliminess.
Do I need to pre-fry the okra? This is a step I do to reduce the risk of okra sliminess. However, it's not 100% necessary – especially when keeping the okra whole and following the other steps above. There's no need to thaw frozen okra if you're adding the okra directly to the stewpan!
What does okra taste like? Okra has a fairly mild taste - some say similar to eggplant and a little like zucchini. However, it's relatively unique - give it a try and let me know what you think!
Optional add-ins and variations:
Vegan/Vegetarianokra stew: simply omit the beef and use vegetable stock for the simplest vegetarian okra stew. I also recommend adding an onion to the stewed okra recipe for extra flavor.
Cumin: While not traditional in my family's version, cumin (around 1 tsp) is a popular addition to bamya recipes.
Turmeric: around 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder will add dimension to the flavor and impact the color, too.
Paprika: for a slightly smokey flavor, I recommend adding around 1 teaspoon smoked paprika.
Spice: if you prefer a spicy stew, feel free to add a finely chopped chili or some chili/cayenne powder. Adjust the amount to personal taste.
Pomegranate molasses: This might sound odd, but it is a popular addition to a bamia/ bamya recipe. I recommend adding around 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses at the same time as the tomatoes.
Lebanese 7 spice/allspice: I recommend around 1 teaspoon to the stewed okra.
Check the blog post for more tips and serving suggestions!