This post isn't here to convince the okra haters that really they should give it another chance. It's for the okra lovers, the ones who can't get enough "slime," who don't care if it is stewed, grilled, or pickled, as long as it's piled high. If you read the blog posts and articles with headlines like "how to cook okra so it's not slimy" (I even wrote one once!), it might seem like we're on a mission to convince the world to eat more okra, but the truth is, we love it so much that we don't care whether you do too. More for us!
This summer, my grandmother taught me how to make her okra stew (also sometimes spelled bamiyeh, bamieh, bamia or bamya), and I'm so happy to be sharing it. We're right at the beginning of okra season, so it's the perfect thing to make right now, but that shouldn't stop you if you're catching this post another time of the year, because we most often make it with frozen okra and canned tomatoes anyway. My grandmother is on a constant mission to hunt down certain frozen veggies to use in her stews, like flat beans for her riza shirw'it fasouliyeh, and (in this case) baby okra for her bamiyeh stew.
You might ask, why baby okra? Because when you simmer whole okra, instead of cutting it into bite-sized pieces, they get this wonderful chewy almost "Q" texture, which okra lovers will appreciate. There are plenty of incredible stews made with chopped okra, like gumbo for instance—chopping first thickens the broth and adds a ton of body and flavor to the finished dish. But this method is just another wonderful technique, which results in a slightly thinner broth and pleasantly chewy okra.
If you can't find baby okra, feel free to cook fully grown okra and then serve the stew with a knife and fork, on a plate over basmati rice. Either way, no one will complain. (I mean, yes, the okra haters will complain, but they're going to complain no matter what). If you're using fresh instead of frozen, make sure you prep them as listed in the recipe—it takes a few extra minutes, but is important for ending up with the right consistency. You can find frozen baby okra in most Middle Eastern markets, and lucky for us they're already prepped that way.
okra stew | shirw'it bamiyeh
yield: 6 to 8 servings
active time: 20 minutes
total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
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2 pounds stew meat, in large chunks
3 cups water
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed through a press
26 ounce container diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 red bell pepper, medium diced
2 jalapeños, seeded and pith removed, small diced
28 ounces frozen baby okra, rinsed under cold water to melt away any frost *
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Cooked basmati rice, for serving
Rinse the meat (or skip the rinsing if you prefer). Place the meat in the bottom of a large saucepan, and cover it with the water and 3/4 teaspoon of salt (or to taste). Bring to a simmer over high heat, then cover and reduce to medium-low. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle boil. Wipe down the sides of the pot once or twice while it cooks, and/or skim any scum that forms on the surface. Cook for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the meat is very tender.
While you're waiting on the beef, place a large dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat and add the butter. Once the butter melts, add the onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 to 7 minutes, just until the onion softens and takes on a little golden color around the edges. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute, just to take the raw edge off the garlic.
Immediately add the diced tomatoes, black pepper, and salt to taste (my diced tomatoes didn't have much sodium, so I added 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt). Bring to a simmer, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 10 minutes, just to allow the flavors to meld.
Add the red pepper, jalapeños, okra, and the braised beef with the braising liquid. Increase the heat to medium-high, stir everything together and wait for it to come to a simmer. Once bubbles break the surface, cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for about 5 to 15 minutes, just until everything softens to your desired consistency. I like the veggies a little al dente, and not totally soft, so I usually do just 5 minutes, but my grandmother likes to cook them for the full 15. It's a preference thing, and you can even cook them longer if you want them really falling apart.
Once the stew is done to your liking, add the lemon juice, and carefully fold everything together without mashing the okra.
* Baby okra is hard to find fresh, but you can find it frozen in some Middle Eastern markets. If you can't find baby okra, you can use regular-sized okra, but read the notes above the recipe if you want to know why you should leave them whole instead of cutting them into smaller pieces. If you're using frozen baby okra, it should already be prepped, but if you're using fresh, you'll need to stem and pare them. Here's how: cut the tough part of the stem off, but leave the tender part of the stem intact (you should definitely not see the inside of the okra). Then use a paring knife to shave away the bumpy ridge where the stem meets the body (check out this very helpful photo from my friend Tony’s instagram stories if you’d like a visual).