This okra recipe takes on a delicious, bright Mediterranean/Middle Eastern twist. It is the perfect balance of savory, tangy, and just a little bit spicy! We call it Bamya, a quick okra and tomatoes stew with onions, garlic, jalapenos, warm spices, and spiked with lime juice.
Be sure to check out the tips for how to cook okra while reducing the slime factor!
Here in the states, comforting, fiber-rich okra is very much thought of as soulful Southern cooking. And living in Atlanta, Georgia, I have sampled a good bit of tasty gumbo, fried okra, and even pickled okra.
But did you know that okra is used in Mediterranean cooking as well?
Okra and tomatoes is something you'll find in many parts of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, including the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, where I grew up. And I'm excited to share my riff on the stewed okra and tomatoes I grew up eating!
This simple okra recipe is the perfect balance of flavor--savory, tangy, and slightly spicy. It takes little prep and only 25 minutes to cook!
Okra and Tomatoes (Bamya)
This okra recipe we call Bamya, is a comforting quick "stew" with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and hot peppers (jalapenos).
The last-minute addition of fresh lime juice brightens this okra recipe and rounding out the flavor. And even though I list juice of ½ lime in the ingredients below, I often add more after tasting. A little citrus can do wonders for your okra, helping both the flavor and texture!
Many bamya (or bamia) recipes call for meat, typically small chunks of beef or lamb, I much prefer this vegan okra option spiked with lime juice.
Tips to reduce slime when cooking okra
Although comforting to some, “mucilage” or that slimy, slippery mouthfeel of cooked okra is not everyone's favorite. Here is what you can do:
- Use smaller okra pods. If you're buying fresh okra at the farmers' market, select the smaller pods which will be more slimy.
- Keep the okra pods intact. In this recipe, I use cut okra sliced into rounds (fresh or frozen will work). But you can work with the pods intact; just give them a trim but do not slice them up.
- Saute the okra before adding the tomatoes. This recipe calls for sauteeing the okra for 5 to 7 minutes over medium-high heat. The brief high heat cooking will give a bit of a crisp good and control the slime a bit (I do it still even though I use cut okra).
- Cook quickly. Another benefit of keeping the meat out of this recipe is that I can cook my okra and tomatoes quickly (25 minutes) rather than a long-cooked, gooey stew.
- Add Citrus. I mentioned that I love adding lime juice to my okra stew for flavor, but another benefit is that acid will help the texture by counteracting the slimness a bit. (I have heard of chefs pre-treating okra with lime juice or vinegar before cooking, but I have not tried that myself).
What you'll need to make it
Here is what you need to make my bamya okra and tomatoes:
- Extra virgin olive oil. A great start to anything but especially for sauteing the sofrito and the okra. I used Private Reserve Greek EVOO.
- Sofrito of onion, garlic, jalapeno pepper. Chop one onion, and mince 4 garlic cloves and 1 or 2 jalapeno peppers (this depends on how spicy you like your food).
- 1 lb okra. I used cut frozen okra (no need to thaw), but you can use cut fresh okra or whole okra pods in this recipe.
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to your liking
- Spices. 1 teaspoon ground allspice, ½ teaspoon to ¾ teaspoon coriander, and ½ teaspoon paprika (you can add more of any of these as you taste).
- Tomatoes. I use 1 ½ cup crushed tomatoes from a cup and 1 fresh tomato sliced that's added on top.
- Lime juice. Start with juice of ½ lime and add more to your taste
- Parsley for garnish, to your liking.
How to cook okra on the stove top?
For those of you who are more visual, here's how I make this okra recipe step-by-step (print-friendly version below):
- Cook the sofrito (onions, garlic, and hot peppers like jalapeno) in a bit of extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet or braising pan with a lid (I used this one<-affiliate link)
- Add the okra and cook another 5 to 7 minutes over medium-high heat. (If you're using frozen okra, you do not need to thaw it in advance)
- Season with kosher salt, black pepper, allspice, coriander and paprika. Toss to coat
- Add tomatoes and water. Stir in crushed canned tomatoes (1 ½ cup) and a ½ cup of water. Top with sliced tomatoes.
- Cook. Bring the okra stew to a boil, then lower the heat and cover almost all the way but allow a little opening at the top. Let simmer for 25 minutes or until the okra is cooked to your liking (some folks like it super tender, so you can keep going a few minutes if you need to).
- Add lime juice. Don't forget to add your citurs! Start with juice of lime (lemon juice will work also). Test and adjust seasoning and add more citrus to your liking.
- Garnish with fresh parsley, if you like.
How I serve it
And if you enjoy more heat, fry up some whole jalapeno peppers and add them to the side.
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Mediterranean-Style Okra Recipe
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion chopped (1 cup chopped onion)
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 2 small green chiles such as jalapeno chopped
- 1 lb frozen or fresh cut okra sliced into rounds (or small whole okra, trimmed)
- Salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 1 ½ cup crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup water
- 1 tomato sliced into rounds
- Juice of ½ lime more to your liking
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet (or pan with a lid) over medium-high until shimmering but not smoking. Lower the heat to medium and add the onions, garlic and chopped jalapeno peppers. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes stirring regularly (do not let the garlic burn, if needed adjust heat).
- Add the okra and sautee for 5 to 7 minutes over medium-high heat.
- Season with kosher salt, black pepper and spices. Toss to coat.
- Add the crushed tomatoes and water. Stir to combine. Add the tomato slices on top. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and cover most of the way (leave a little opening at the top). Let the okra simmer on low heat for 20 to 25 minutes or until the okra has softened. Uncover and add juice of ½ lime (more to your liking).
- To serve: This is great as a vegan meal served on top of Lebanese rice or with a little bit of warm pita bread.
- Option: Fry some hot peppers in extra virgin olive oil to serve on the side.
- Storage: allow leftovers to cool before storing in tight-lid glass container in the fridge. It should keep well for 3 to 4 days. Warm over medium heat, adding a little water if needed.
This post originally appeared on The Mediterranean Dish in 2015 and has been recently updated with new information and media for readers' benefit. Enjoy!