Tomato-Stewed Okra [CYOB]

Acidic ingredients such as lemon juice and tomato help prevent okra from becoming too gooey during the cooking process.

Acidic ingredients such as lemon juice and tomato help prevent okra from becoming too gooey during the cooking process.

Create Your Own Bite #31

1 15 oz Can of Stewed Tomatoes, No Salt Added

1/4 White Onion, Diced

2-3 Cups Whole Okra, Stemmed

Salt and Pepper, To Taste

1 Tablespoon Light Butter

1 Slice Morningstar Bacon, Slivered

Lemon Juice

Estimated Calories: 65 Per 1/2 Cup Serving

Sometimes, an ingredient falls onto your plate with such a thunderous roar you can’t ignore it, even if you want to. Back in September, I enjoyed bhindi for the first time. It arrived, deeply simmered in masala, ginger, turmeric, and coriander, in a takeout container to my friend’s Upper West Side apartment. A month later, in North Carolina, this fibrous seed pod was the touted special – deep fried, of course – at Mateo Tapas Bar, by its more common name. Okra.

In November, I spotted this under its Greek guise, bamies, as a casserole stewed with tomatoes and onions. My parents and I ordered it from Estiatorio Faros Greek Restaurant on 7th Ave in Brooklyn. Here, it appeared in its most natural form – whole pods cooked slowly in a light tomato sauce.

Not unlike the dish I prepared last night in my kitchen, the Bamies at Faros were kept whole and prepared in a tomato broth.

Not unlike the dish I prepared last night in my kitchen, the Bamies at Faros were kept whole and prepared in a tomato broth.

Known also as lady fingers, this pod of many names appears often in cuisines across the globe. In Mediterranean cooking it is stewed with vegetables, in Indian cuisine it is quickly fried with spices, and in the Americas it’s breaded and deep fried.

This past weekend, I had a friend visiting from home. On Saturday, we stopped by my local market, and (as always) I was lured in by the sale produce. A package of okra, already stemmed, for only $1. As Rob had never before had okra, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to finally try preparing this versatile ingredient myself.

I wanted to prepare a straightforward, quick dish, and I found one very similar to the Bamies Katsarolas I had ordered with my parents at Faros the month before. There, we had shared it as a side dish and discovered we were enormous fans of the vegetable when it was left whole, and not fried. This allergen-friendly recipe is gluten-free, grain-free, and completely nut free.

To start, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When melted, add the slices of vegetarian bacon. While this first step is also the least important, I think the bacon is a pleasing textural contrast in this stew-like dish, and it adds a bit of rich saltiness to the dish. While the bacon is crisping, rinse the whole okra pods in cold water, removing any dirt or fibers. To keep this dish vegan, use olive oil instead.

Add the diced onion to the bacon and butter, stirring occasionally until translucent, about 5 minutes.  When the onions are just beginning to brown on the edges, add the okra and stewed tomatoes. If necessary, add water until the okra is completely covered. Raise the heat until the stew begins to bubble and cover. Allow the okra to cook for at least 15 minutes. Afterward, if the sauce is still runny, raise the heat and uncover, simmering until the excess water has cooked off. Here, add the salt and pepper, and finish with a splash of lemon juice to brighten the dish.

For a slightly exotic kick, add a teaspoon of cumin and a pinch of coriander.

A Little Tip: Because okra is mucilaginous, cooking it too long releases this mucous. While this does not make a dish inedible, it is best to avoid overcooking this pod. At best, okra is just beginning to turn soft to the touch when the dish is complete.

A great side dish, main meal, or accompaniment with pita and feta.

A great side dish, main meal, or accompaniment with pita and feta.

As okra does not have a particularly strong flavor, it takes well to many different culinary styles and can handle big, bold flavors. For a healthy dish full of of fiber and antioxidants, make this as an entree or a hearty side to complement a Greek-style salad.

Rob was a fan, and I’m thrilled to have a new ingredient to add to my arsenal of hearty vegetarian fare.

Until next time,

Melanie

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