June 4, 2010

The Lady's Fingers (UPDATED)

If you are new to my blog, please read my welcome note first.

Bamya in Arabic, Okra or Ladies fingers...a beautiful fruit...yes believe it or not, it is a plant, and the okra itself is the fruit, but it is a vegetable fruit...hence its delicacy...

Now is the Okra season...and if anyone of you has ever met an Iraqi, you'd know that almost all Iraqis love Bamya. I personally haven't met one who doesn't...

For this post, I researched a little about the origins of Bamya. Interesting history to the plant...originated in Africa and was brought through Ethiopia  and the Red sea to the Middle East. It landed in the West with the slave trafficking and I guess that makes it a politically incorrect vegetable...in some circles.

I will give you tonight 2 versions of Bamya, the way I cook them...one is a vegetarian version because am not much of a meat eater and am sure this version will make the average Iraqi cringe in horror and for the sake of Irraqi political correctness I will also give you the Iraqi way of preparing it with meat...as in a stew. I may not have time to do both tonight, but this post will be updated before they lynch this "lady"...

But since am the cook here, I will start with MY own vegetarian version first...

My vegetarian Okra. recipe
For two people you will need

- around 200 - 250 g of FRESH Okra. If you can't find fresh, use frozen but make sure it does not become a soup . In other words, watch out for the timing...
- about 5 gloves of garlic
- half a lemon juice FRESH
- 7 or so branches of FRESH coriander (leaves only)
- 1 1/2 tbs of Olive oil
- 1/4 tsp of curry
-1/4 tsp of black pepper
- 1 tbs of tomato paste
- about half a cup of boiling water
- salt to taste

Preparation is dead easy.

- cut the head of each Okra (see picture to know what I mean by "head" some cut a little bit of the tail end, I don't since I don't have time to do so)
- peel the garlic cloves and cut them in half or 4 quarters each
- chop the fresh coriander leaves
- heat oil in non stick pan and fry garlic a little, add your ladies fingers, plus the coriander, mix GENTLY and leave on a low fire while you prepare the sauce.
- dilute tomato paste in boiling water, add your black pepper and curry and pour over your okra.
- let it boil ONCE, the Lady's fingers are VERY sensitive and like do not like being stirred harshly otherwise they become all gooey.
- once cooked ( make sure not to overcook as Okra is quick to cook), add your lemon juice on top of the stew, stir gently once and leave these tender lady's fingers to rest...

I had this for dinner tonight and it was DELICIOUS. And being a spice lover, I prepared some white rice to go with it to which I added in the cooking  1 tbs of cinnamon powder and half a cube of beef stock.

A reminder for cooking rice. For 1 cup of Basmati rice

- wash rice thoroughly and let it soak as long as you can
- heat about 1 tbs of vegetable oil in a saucepan
- drain the rice and pour over the well heated oil
- add your cinnamon powder,
- add one cup of BOILING water in which you dilute your beef stock (optional),
- add salt to taste
- stir ONCE because you don't want your rice to be gooey as well...
- let it boil ONCE only, then lower heat to a MINIMUM until all liquid is absorbed.

Iraqi version - Bamia Stew. (to be updated later insha'Allah)

What an irresponsible Iraqi woman I am ! Finishing off this recipe and giving you the second part has taken me ages. Shame on me! Iraq is crying for it's meat version and here I am stuck with the vegetarian one. But not anymore. Because you're getting the second part - Bamia stew with meat --Iraqi style, all the way!

I don't like meat much, but I do eat it - I prefer beef to lamb. Long story, will not get into it right now.

So I use lean beef, no grease, no fat, cut up in chunks, (not small cubes OK?)

For 250 grms of Bamia you will need around 150 grms of beef (depending on how much of a meat eater you are).

Preparation :

- boil the beef chunks in hot water, adding the following
* 2 bay leaves
* some pepper corns (not too much just a little)
* 1 cinnamon stick broken in two
* 5 cloves
* 1/2 onion cut in 2
Do not add salt as the salt turns the meat hard when boiling

Since I hate anything rancid,  always when boiling any kind of meat, including chicken, I make sure to remove that whitish/grayish froth that comes to the surface. Discard that stuff, just scrap it off with a spoon and throw it away. You want a clear broth as you will be using it later.

- once the meat is well cooked and tender, heat a little vegetable oil, not more than half a tbs in a saucepan, add your meat and let it turn a light golden brown.

- add your Bamia (see above for initial preparation)
- add your gloves of garlic about 4 whole
- add 1 fresh tomato chopped
- do not stir at all - just pick the saucepan and give it a little shake. Ladies fingers when not fried beforehand get mushy and hate being stirred. You need to keep them whole.
- take a cup (or so) of the clear broth (i.e drained) enough to cover your beef and Bamia mix but not too much -- you don't want to drown the whole thing. In this cup dilute some tomato paste, a nice crimson red, not burgundy red. So I'd say about 1 Tbs of tomato paste (checking the color will indicate)
- add salt and a just a tiny bit of pepper and add it to the mix
- Bamia cooks very quickly.  Make sure it is neither overcooked nor al dente.
- just before it is totally cooked, add your freshly squeezed 1/2 a  lemon juice.

N.B : for Iraqi version do not add any other spices, no curry, no coriander.

To be served with White rice. See above but discard cinnamon in rice.

P.S : If there's anything unclear, you can email me or contact me on Twitter. You need to get the Iraqi stuff right, when cooking, at least !