Okra stew (or bamia) is a household dish for most Egyptians. The preparations vary depending on who is making it and what is on hand, but the general idea is often similar. In this case, the okra stands out as the highlight accentuated by seasoning and made heartier with meat.
The dish can easily accommodate a vegetarian approach by just substituting the meat for double the amount of okra and a little more salt. Traditionally, this okra stew uses lamb as the main protein, but it is often made with beef as well. I’ve used ground beef for the recipe simply because it’s cheap, easy to find, it’s pretty much foolproof, and it’s how I often ate it growing up. Not everyone is that familiar with okra or some of the various preparations though.
Some people don’t like the texture often associated with okra and may refer to it as slimy or viscous. It never bothered me at all, but I can see what those people mean. The sliminess is greatly affected by preparation. Fried okra or pickled okra for example, often isn’t that slimy at all. Okra made into soup or chopped okra does get a more viscous consistency the more the okra is cut up, blended, or cooked.
One great bonus to this okra stew recipe is that using whole baby okra along with the acid from the tomato sauce cuts down on any texture issues some may have. The baby okra is not only perfectly bite sized, but it gets nice and tender as well. I’d recommend this Egyptian okra stew recipe to okra lovers as well as anyone willing to give okra a second shot.
Egyptian Okra Stew with Ground Beef
- 14 ounces baby okra (size 0) (14 ounces is roughly 400 grams. If you can't find baby okra or size 0 okra, then sliced okra will also work, but it may be more "slimy" than baby okra. Middle Eastern markets will often carry baby okra in the frozen section. Frozen is great, but if you have fresh that works too. )
- 1 pound 85/15 ground beef or chopped stew beef/lamb (This dish is traditionally made with lamb, however, ground beef is often easier to find, cheaper, and works very well.)
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion (Roughly half of a medium sized onion)
- 2 cloves crushed garlic
- 2 tsp ground corriander
- 1/2 tsp cumin (This is optional. It adds a nice underlying flavor, but isn't necessary.)
- 1 tsp kosher or sea salt
- 1/8 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (This is totally optional, but it adds a little bit of heat. )
- 8 oz plain tomato sauce (This is usually one small can.)
- 1.75 cups water or chicken broth (The water will be added in 3/4 cup increments throughout cooking)
- Large pan with high sides or pot
- Spatula or large spoon
- Teaspoon measurement
- Cup measurement
- In a pan with high sides, add a tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil and bring the pan up to medium to medium-high heat.
- Add the raw ground beef to the pan and start to break it apart with a spatula while browning it. Continue until most of the liquid cooks off. If there is too much liquid (which can happen if the pan was not hot enough or not large enough), then carefully pour some off and continue cooking. If you are using beef stew meat or lamb, then brown all sides of the meat, but don't cook it all the way through. Also, keep in mind that you may need to simmer the dish twice as long in order to get the meat tender.
- With the meat browned, add roughly a half cup of chopped sweet onion to the meat and continue cooking. Stir and mix everything together.
- When the onions start to become softer or a little more translucent (after a couple of minutes), add the two cloves of crushed garlic (I like to use a garlic press for this) to the mix. You can add it directly, or you can push some of the meat and onions aside and add the garlic directly to the cleared space in the pan to let it reach a golden brown color before mixing it in. Just be careful not to burn the garlic.
- Next add the two teaspoons of ground coriander, the teaspoon of salt, the 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper. Add the optional 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin and the 1/4 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper if you want as well. Stir the spices in well and let them cook a bit (a minute or two) with the meat to bring out their aromas.
- Add the okra to the pan and mix everything well. If using frozen okra, it's ok to add it directly to the pan frozen. If frozen, stir the ingredients every minute or so until there is no more frost visible on the okra.
- Add the 8 oz of plain tomato sauce to the pan next and mix everything very well. Let all of the ingredients cook together another minute while the sauce sizzles and caramelizes slightly.
- Then add 3/4 cup of water or chicken broth to the pot and bring everything to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and make sure there is enough liquid to keep a simmer going, but there's no need for everything to be fully submerged.
- After 30 minutes of simmering, stir everything and add 3/4 to 1 cup more of water or broth as needed to bring the liquid back to where it was at the start of the cooking process. Then simmer for another 30-45 minutes. If using stew meat instead of ground, then you will probably need to simmer for another 1.5 hours to tenderize the meat. Just keep adding liquid every 30 minutes as needed.
- When the okra is easily crushed against the side of the pan with a fork, the dish is ready. You want the okra to retain its shape and stand up to stirring, but soft enough that a light push from a fork will break it apart.
- The okra is ready to serve immediately. Serve it plain, over rice, or dip some pita or crust bread into it and eat with your hands!
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