It was hard to decide on a suitable veggie or fruit to write about this week. Having done the weekly shop at Fethiye market – there were just too many choices! Fresh green beans, Barbunya (speckled pink beans), corn and of course tomatoes again…then I spotted the Turkish okra. Lots and lots of lady’s fingers, known in Turkey as ‘Bamya’, and the village women all crowding around the stalls buying up kilos of them.
Before living in Turkey I had only really eaten lady’s fingers in Indian restaurants in the UK as part of a curry. They are another veg that many ex-pats walk past at the pazar as they’re not too familiar and we don’t know what to do with them. Yet here in Turkey Bamya is served up regularly in family homes during the late summer when it’s in season. It’s normally cooked up into a stew in a similar way to ‘taze fasulye‘ (fresh beans) and served with Turkish rice, salad and bread. Most make the vegetarian version ‘Domatesli Bamya‘ as described in Macide’s, my Turkish Mother in Laws recipe below. But some meat lovers do fry off and add chopped lamb, lean goat or beef if preferred.
What is Bamya? Which is best to buy?
Bamya, also known as Okra and Lady’s Fingers, is a highly nutritious and low fat vegetable most popular in North Africa, the Middle East and India. It’s grown in warm temperate regions and the pods are normally gathered when they are at a green, immature stage. Bamya grows on a plant that bears many green pods. Each pod is between 5 and 15cm in length depending on maturity and contains vertical rows of small, round, white seeds. The smaller (but not the smallest!) ones are generally considered the best to opt for as they are tastier and less hard when cooked according to Selda here in the office. The fresh ones will snap rather than bend and have less of a fuzzy exterior. Opt for the ones that are evenly green and no longer than 3 inches long. Selda also suggests buying in bulk and preparing them as described below then popping them in a freezer bag ready to pull out when you fancy. “They are really tasty, freeze very well and are hard to get most of the year“, say’s Selda.
How to prepare Bamya.
Preparing Turkish okra is a little fiddly but well worth the hassle. Start by washing them thoroughly. Use a paring knife to trim the stem end but be careful not to break the pod itself if planning to cook them whole. For those that dislike a slimy/sticky texture, Wikihow website suggests soaking the trimmed pods in either salt water in the same manner as you would aubergines, or vinegar (in a bowl pour half a cup of vinegar over every 500g (1lb) of okra). Let it stand for 30 minutes then rinse thoroughly and use as desired. Chefs use bamya in differing ways depending on the recipe. They are used in stews or can be fried in pieces or whole. Many cajun and creole stews (like gumbo) have okra chopped into pieces allowing the gelatinous pod filling to thicken the dish. If left whole (as in Macide’s recipe), there is no thickening effect.
Health Benefits of Bamya
Turkish okra is a healthy, nutritious diet food containing around 33 calories per 100g. According to the website NaturalFoodBenefits.com, okra is very low fat and has many health benefits. It contains significant levels of vitamins A and C, is rich in calcium, zinc and dietary fiber and is highly recommended for pregnant women due to the Folic Acid content which is essential to fetal neural tube formation. It is suggested that those that incorporate a regular serving of okra into their diets may find that it helps reduce cholesterol, can assist in regulating blood sugars in diabetics and also aids those that suffer from constipation, gas, bloating and IBS symptoms.
Macide’s Domatesli Bamya (Okra with Tomatoes – Serves 4)
500g Bamya (washed with stems trimmed but left whole)
2 Ripe Summer Tomatoes (skinned and diced finely)
1 Green Pepper (finely chopped. You can also add a chopped chilli if you want to add some heat to the dish)
1 Medium Onion (finely diced)
3 Cloves of Garlic (crushed or diced)
1 1/2 Dessert Spoons Tomato Salca (tomato paste/puree)
300ml Hot Water
Squeeze of Fresh Lemon Juice
Salt and Black Pepper (to taste)
Pinch of sugar
Optional for those that want to add meat: 300g chopped lamb/beef or goat (chopped into chunks)
In a large pan over a medium heat fry the onions with the olive oil and garlic until soft and translucent (around 5 minutes). Add the tomatoes and fry until they start to get soft and are heated through. Add the peppers and chilli (if using) and let it cook away for around another 5 minutes. Add the trimmed bamya and give it all a gentle stir. Mix the salca paste with the 300ml of boiling water and a pinch of sugar (to take the acidity away from the tomatoes) and pour slowly over the dish. You may not need all the water mix so pour gradually, you need enough to cover the bamya but not too much so it resembles soup. Season with a good pinch of salt, black pepper and a squeeze of lemon and bring to the boil. As soon as it starts to bubble, turn down to a low flame and cover. Let it simmer away for at least half an hour. Check the dish occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan or that it is not reducing to quickly and boiling dry (in which case add a little more water). The dish is normally cooked at around the 40 minute mark but if you prefer the bamya softer, let it cook for up to an hour. Meaty option: If you wish to add meat, fry it up with the onions once they have turned translucent. Continue with the rest of the recipe as described.
Allow your Turkish Okra to cool slightly and serve with salad, fresh bread and either Bulgur Pilav (see our last recipe) or rice.
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