If you're from the Middle East, chances are you grew up on this classic okra stew, served with a big plate of rice. In Arabic, Okra is called "Bamia" or "Bamya" and it's very common in many households. It's cooked with lamb or beef in a tomato and garlic broth, and uses simple flavours that marry together so well! It's one of my favourite stews and it's really simple to make. If you want a taste of every day Arabic cuisine... this one is a must try.
Table of contents
What is Okra Stew (Bamia)?
Okra stew is made up of okra (duh), onions, garlic, tomatoes or tomato paste, pomegranate molasses and meat. The ingredients are cooked together in the meat broth and create a stew that typically turns into this luscious thickness due to the Okra's natural thickening properties. The meat can be lamb, veal or beef. Chicken works too if that's all you have!
What does Okra taste like?
Okra has a mild taste and the texture can vary depending on how it's cooked. If it is sautéed or fried, it can retain some crunch. But when it is slow-cooked like in this stew recipe, it becomes tender and melts in your mouth. It's usually compared to eggplant due to the texture, but their taste is different and I believe okra has a really unique flavour. The best way to find out is to try it! Okra is a highly nutritious food and would be a great vegetable to incorporate in your diet.
How do I reduce the sliminess from Okra?
Okra can be slimy, and the best way to avoid or reduce sliminess is to leave it intact (like in this recipe) and not cut it into small pieces. Cutting it will release a lot of the "sliminess" and result in a thicker consistency. When slow cooked and in tact, there really isn't any slime and it just becomes tender and delicious.
How to make Okra Stew with meat
- Chop and cook the onion with a bit of salt until slightly caramelized. This step adds amazing flavour
- Sear off the meat and brown it slightly, then add the tomato paste and allow it to caramelize. Again, this step builds more flavour to the stew
- Add the okra, garlic, salt, and pomegranate molasses along with water and bring to a boil
- Allow everything to boil for at least 30 minutes, then check on the tenderness of the okra and the meat and adjust the seasoning
- Add more water if required and continue to let it boil for another 30-40 minutes. This stew takes roughly 1 hour for the meat and okra to tenderize and develop flavour
Should I use fresh or frozen Okra?
If it is not in season, I recommend using frozen Okra. Fresh Okra out of season can be very tough and take hours to tenderize, and sometimes it actually doesn't become tender. You can usually tell that it's going to be tough by the size - the larger the tougher it will be. Okra should be harvested when it is young, and usually the smaller the more tender.
That's why I mostly rely on frozen small okra, which can be found in various sizes from local Middle Eastern stores. If using frozen Okra, you can just add it into the stew without thawing it beforehand.
If you're using fresh okra, make sure to wash it well, and then just trim the top a little bit so as not to reveal any of the seeds. Make sure you don't trim it too much, otherwise it will lose its shape when cooking and likely release that "sliminess".
Do I need to fry or pre-cook the Okra?
Some people fry or boil the okra with oil before adding it into the stew, which you can totally do. However, my mom never did this and I find it a step that you can skip to save time and also calories. The final product will not be impacted, trust me!
How do I make this dish vegetarian?
If you want to make this vegetarian, simply don't include any meat, and I would recommend also using vegetable stock in place of some of the water and doubling the amount of onions used. It will add more flavour to the stew. I do this all the time as well and I love it!
What do you serve with this dish?
Okra stew, like many other Middle Eastern stews, is typically served with a plate of rice. We also serve either a salad or some chopped vegetables alongside it such as cucumber, green onions, and radish. I LOVE it with green onions (you take a bit of rice + stew then a bite of green onion - it's so good!). You can also eat it with some bread - that's my dad's favourite way.
For more related recipes, check out:
- Fasolia Yabsa (Iraqi White Bean Stew)
- Arabic Rice with Vermicelli
- Stuffed Onions
- One Pot Chicken and Rice
Okra Stew | Middle Eastern Bamia Recipe
- 500 g veal cut into medium pieces (you can substitute lamb or stewing beef - see notes)
- 800 g frozen small okra you can substitute fresh okra - see notes
- 1 onion
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 5.5 tablespoons tomato paste
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1.5 tablespoon pomegranate molasses if unavailable, you can skip this - but highly recommend
- 1.5 teaspoons salt total amount, added in stages
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- About 15 cups of water added in stages
- Start by dicing the onion finely and add it to a stock pot along with the vegetable oil and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook it for 2-3 minutes until translucent
- Wash the veal pieces and season with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper
- To the pot, add the washed veal pieces and brown them from all sides for about 5 minutes
- Next add the tomato paste and and continue to cook for another few minutes
- Add the frozen okra to the pot along with the garlic which should be roughly chopped, the pomegranate molasses and ½ teaspoon salt
- Add about 10 cups of water in the pot, mix everything well, and bring to a rolling boil on medium heat for roughly 30 minutes
- After 30 minutes, check the tenderness of both the okra and the meat. If they are both still slightly firm, add more water (roughly 4-5 cups) and allow it to continue boiling for another 20 minutes
- Check the softness of the meat and okra, as well as the seasoning and adjust accordingly. If okra and meat are both tender, turn heat off and serve
- I recommend using good quality veal or lamb for this stew, as they are typically more tender than beef. However if all you have on hand is beef, that works fine too but expect a tougher consistency.
- Also for the meat, you can pressure cook it before starting the stew process to ensure it tenderizes in a short amount of time
- Small or young okra is recommended as it is much more tender than the larger okra. I do not recommend using large okra - it may need a really long time to cook, and sometimes it does not even soften