Middle Eastern Okra – Bamya

Middle Eastern Okra - Easy and Delicious Recipe for Bamya with Tomato, Onion and Spices by Tori Avey

Readers frequently ask me, “How do you stay skinny when you’re testing recipes all day long?” Enjoying treats in moderation is key; most of the time I stick to a flexitarian, Mediterranean-style diet. I also have a secret weapon, a recipe that we make on the regular here at home. Bamya, or okra cooked Middle Eastern-style, is one of our very favorite things to eat. Instead of a full dinner every night, we often replace 1-2 meals per week with a pot of simmering, spicy bamya. This wonder vegetable is low calorie and high in fiber. It leaves us feeling full and satisfied without packing on the pounds. I’m excited to share our family recipe with you today!

Okra is one of those foods that people tend to love or loathe. Those who dislike it bemoan its “slimy” texture. This naturally-occurring film, known as mucilage, is similar to the goop you’ll find in aloe vera plants. In this recipe, the mucilage is actually beneficial to the dish. When okra is slowly simmered with acidic tomato paste, the mucilage thickens the sauce. The okra loses its slimy texture and becomes something altogether different– tender with a terrific texture. I’ve had many friends say they dislike okra, only to be converted by this very recipe. Good thing, too– okra has lots of health benefits, including a healthy dose of dietary fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C and folate. This stuff is good AND good for you!

Warning– as written, this recipe has quite a kick to it. We love our okra spicy… it is Middle Eastern-style, after all. I’ve written “to taste” on the red pepper flakes and cayenne, which provide most of the heat here. If you’re spice sensitive, add with care. If you love spice like we do, go all out… it’s a flavor bomb!

To learn more about okra, check out this terrific post by History Kitchen contributor Michael W. Twitty - The Secret History of Okra. It also includes a Southern recipe for okra tomato soup!

Middle Eastern Okra - Easy and Delicious Recipe for Bamya with Tomato, Onion and Spices by Tori Avey

Middle Eastern Okra - Bamya

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. okra (bamya)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 tsp salt, or more to taste
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika (or substitute regular paprika)
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes - if spice sensitive, use sparingly or omit
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne, or to taste

You will also need

  • Large saute pan with lid
Total Time: 45 Minutes
Servings: 4 entree servings, 6-8 side servings
Kosher Key: Pareve
  • Prepare your okra by rinsing it clean, then slicing off the top and bottom tips of each piece. At this point the okra will feel slimy. Don't worry, it will lose that texture as it cooks. To speed the process of prepping the okra, I sometimes line up the stem ends against my chef's knife...
  • Middle Eastern Okra - Easy and Delicious Recipe for Bamya with Tomato, Onion and Spices by Tori AveyThen slice those stem ends off 4-5 pieces at once.
  • Middle Eastern Okra - Easy and Delicious Recipe for Bamya with Tomato, Onion and Spices by Tori AveyTurn the okra pieces, realign the bottom tips with the knife, then slice off the very bottom tips. By grouping them this way you can speed through the whole batch and prep them relatively fast.
  • Middle Eastern Okra - Easy and Delicious Recipe for Bamya with Tomato, Onion and Spices by Tori AveyHeat 2 tbsp olive oil in a saute pan over medium. Add the minced onion and saute, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes until softened and starting to caramelize. To save time, I usually prep the okra (as outlined above) while the onion is cooking. Just be sure to keep a close eye on the onions and don't let them burn.
  • Middle Eastern Okra - Easy and Delicious Recipe for Bamya with Tomato, Onion and Spices by Tori AveyWhen the onions are cooked, add the minced garlic to the pan and saute for another minute till fragrant. Add the okra to the pan and stir. It will feel like a lot of okra at first and the pan will be crowded, but it will quickly shrink up and soften as it cooks.
  • Middle Eastern Okra - Easy and Delicious Recipe for Bamya with Tomato, Onion and Spices by Tori AveyWhisk together 1 1/2 cups hot water, 1/4 cup tomato paste, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes and 1/4 tsp cayenne. Both the red pepper flakes and cayenne add heat; if you are super spice sensitive, omit the pepper flakes and start with a pinch of cayenne, then add more to taste as desired.
  • Middle Eastern Okra - Easy and Delicious Recipe for Bamya with Tomato, Onion and Spices by Tori AveyPour the tomato liquid evenly over the top of the okra. Bring to a boil.
  • Middle Eastern Okra - Easy and Delicious Recipe for Bamya with Tomato, Onion and Spices by Tori AveyCover the saute pan with a lid, vented at the edge. Reduce heat to a simmer. Let the okra cook for about 20-30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until the largest pieces of okra have softened to your liking. We like the okra quite tender and almost falling apart, but that is a matter of preference. At the end of cooking, your tomato sauce should have reduced and thickened. If there is a lot of liquid in the pan, remove the lid and turn up the heat to a high simmer till the sauce has reduced (careful, don't let it burn!). Add more salt or spice to taste, if desired.
  • Middle Eastern Okra - Easy and Delicious Recipe for Bamya with Tomato, Onion and Spices by Tori AveyServe okra hot. We usually eat it alone, but if we need a more substantial meal I serve it over rice, quinoa or couscous.
  • Middle Eastern Okra - Easy and Delicious Recipe for Bamya with Tomato, Onion and Spices by Tori Avey

Comments (47)Post a Comment

    1. Hi Janet, I prefer fresh but frozen can also be used. It may not need as much time to cook, and therefore probably won’t need as much liquid, but I would have to test it to give you an exact amount.

  1. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I never realized I loved okra till I lived in England, and ate at an Indian restaurant in Norwich that used local farm produce in its terrific vegetarian curries. And I discovered okra has a wonderful, subtle yet distinct flavour, and is really satisfying. I am bookmarking this recipe (and will use the chilli flakes!).

  2. How would it be if you were to pan fry it and using matzah meal as a breading to make it usable for Passover?

    Hag Sameach!

    1. Mike, I have never breaded and fried it with matzo. It might be okay, but most Southern-style fried preparations are coated with cornmeal which has a very different texture. Personally, I much prefer it cooked this way in sauce and spices rather than deep fried.

    1. Dylan– yes. This is how my husband’s Sephardic Middle Eastern family has made the recipe for generations– the only change I’ve made is to up the spices a bit and sub smoked paprika for regular. Tomato paste has a slightly different (sweeter and more potent) flavor than pureed or strained. It also seems to thicken better as it reduces. But you can certainly use pureed or strained if that’s what you have on hand.

  3. My favorite way to eat okra – toss in olive oil, granulated garlic, s & p, and smoked paprika, and roast whole for about 20 min until crisp. I can’t wait until they come into season here in Israel!

  4. I am Armenian and your recipe is similar to the way I prepare Okra. However, the proper way to cut the stems is to keep the tip in place by using a small knife peel or slice a thin layer of skin in a circular motion all around the top and tip, leaving the tip in place, but peeled. This is what keeps the okra from getting mushy or slimy. Cutting the entire top as shown here is what makes the okra slimy.

    1. Hi Dorothy, I was taught to cut the whole tip by a family member from Israel. It never turns out slimy when we prepare it this way. I think it has less to do with the way you cut it and more to do with how you prepare it (simmered in acidic sauce tends to help the sliminess to dissipate).

  5. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I have been eating okra all my life. My grandfather was from Turkey and I prepared it as he liked it, with tomatoes and lemons. I tried it your way, and it was delicious. I think I may add a little lemon juice next time.

  6. I have been eating Bamya (real name) for years.
    It can be used frozen (It is seaonal vegie).
    The best are small size to baby.

  7. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I think this may be my favorite meals ever. Thank you for the recipe! I added kale, chopped asparagus and a bag of frozen gumbo vegs (carrots, peas, green beans.) It is easy and wonderful!

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