This okra recipe is a perfect one-pot summer meal.
If you’ve visited Greek homes did you ever not notice that there was always a pot of cooked food sitting on the stove?
Cooking last thing at night or first thing in the morning was a habit mothers and grandmothers traditionally had in Greece and Cyprus, and one that they passed on to us too.
It made life easier at mealtimes, was a more economical way to keep the family fed, and it also kept everyone happy; whoever was hungry and at whatever time, there was always food available as a full meal, a snack or nibble – a healthier way to snack!
This habit is practical throughout the year whether we have busy working days or whether we are relaxing in holiday time. It’s an ideal habit at the moment in the middle of our summer holidays!
Summer is the time of year when so many vegetables are in season and at cheaper prices than any other season. Take advantage, welcome them in your kitchen as much as possible. A main characteristic of Greek cuisine is that vegetables become main dishes for most of the week.
Cooking last thing at night or very early in the morning does not mean that you will be slaving for hours over a hot stove. There is a widespread impression that Greek cuisine is time-consuming. Admittedly, sometimes it can be! But there are so many one-pot meals that can be prepared in a few minutes – as little as 10 to 20!
‘Bamies’ – otherwise known as ‘ladies’ fingers’ or okra – is one of these quick, easy dishes, and a perfect summer dish.
It will take you longer to read this and understand the whole process than to actually cook the dish! It might sound complicated but when you’ve tried it once it’ll be so much easier second time around.
Bamies, okra or ladies’ fingers
With their velvety texture, unique, rich and melt-in-the mouth taste, bamies are indeed a very simple and quick dish to prepare.
As bamies are a summer vegetable, we never used to eat them in the winter months unless our mothers dried them in the summer and threaded them so they could be brought to us, living abroad, to remind us of home and homeland tastes.
Serve as a main meal with halloumi or feta, bread and maybe a salad or just slices of tomatoes.
Serve as a side dish, too, or as part of a meze selection.
Bamies can be served hot or cold.
In Greek cuisine, bamies are considered one of the ‘lathera’ – or oily – dishes. Vegetables cooked like this appear to be very oily, and this is what’s intended as they are cooked using lots of olive oil. No Greek cook will accept it otherwise as they will condemn the dish as ‘nerovrasto’ (boiled in water.) Imam bayildi comes under this category as well as other casserole vegetable dishes.
Nowadays, although we cook with plenty of olive oil, we do not use it in abundance as our mothers did. This is probably because of a change of taste as well as for health reasons. So we use enough oil for our dish not to be called ‘nerovrasto’, but we don’t drown our dish in oil!
In this okra recipe, the main ingredients apart from bamies (okra) themselves are onions and tomatoes. Greek cuisine uses a lot of tomatoes in cooking or in salads during the summer, as they are in season and are cheap to buy and wonderfully tasty. Some say that eating tomatoes even provides us with natural sun protection…
If you have the choice of choosing the produce yourself and it is not already in pre-packed trays, then you need to choose tender bamies.
You can clean and take off top the tips the day before if you have the time, so it’ll be even faster to cook them in the morning.
There are two ways to prepare bamies. You either start by wiping clean each okra pod clean with a cloth or kitchen paper. This will prevent them from becoming slimy – like mushrooms! – which happens if they get wet and their tips are cut off.
Or you can wash them well, then drain them and place on a flat tray lined with a towel. Then leave them in the sun for an hour, or simply wipe them dry.
The second step in preparation is to cut off the top/stem with a sharp knife. Do not chop off the top in a straight line; instead, you should trim off the top in a canonical shape so you’re left with a little pyramid-like shape at the top. It sounds complicated but once you learn the trick it is a quick job! The reason you cut them like this is that you do not want to expose the little holes that are immediately underneath the tip of the okra. If the holes show then they will loose their glutinous juices, and will also absorb a lot of oil and liquid in the cooking process, becoming slimy and a bit watery in falvour.
So, once you’ve cleaned the tip off your bamies, place them on a flat tray and sprinkle with a couple of spoonfuls of vinegar – this helps in holding their juices.
Now you can either cook them immediately, or you can leave them in the sun for another hour for that extra ‘sun-kissed’ flavor. Or you can simply cover them up with a tea towel and cook them the next day.
- 1 kg. Bamies, cleaned and prepared as above
- 10 tblsps olive oil
- 2 medium-sized onions, peeled and finely cut
- 400 g tin peeled chopped tomatoes or 1 ½ cup grated tomatoes
- 3 tblsps red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- More red wine vinegar before serving, according to taste
- 3 cloves garlic – optional
- 2 tbsps chopped parsley – optional
- Heat olive oil and lightly fry your onion and garlic until soft but not brown
- Add bamies and gently stir for a couple of minutes or simply shake the pot
- Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and enough water to cover the bamies
- Cover and allow to simmer on a low heat until the bamies are left with the liquid is absorbed and you’re left with an oily sauce (around 30 to 40 minutes)
- Remove from heat and add vinegar and parsley to taste
During cooking, make sure you stir gently as aggressive stirring will easily bruise your bamies.
If you notice too much liquid left in the pot half way through cooking, continue remove the lid to continue cooking.