Okra (in Greek “bamies”) is one of Crete’s favourite vegetable full of health benefits. Okra has a lot of devoted fans in Crete although in the rest of Greece less so. Okra is mainly found around the Mediterranean and is rare in other places. Cretans usually eat okra as a vegan dish cooked with tomato juice, although it can be also combined with chicken or fish. Okra has a sticky texture and fairly sweet taste which becomes delicious with tomato sauce. It is a very summery dish, light and refreshing. It evokes childhood memories of long and hot summers when we went for swimming in the turquoise Cretan seas. The usual question when we returned home was ‘what’s on for lunch’? When our mother’s or grandmother’s answer was ‘okra’ we always exclaimed with pleasure; what a perfect end to a Cretan summer experience! Okra sounds to us like summer of our innocent youth and we provide the following traditional recipe of the Cretan vegan cuisine with great pleasure.
Okra is a vegetable full of fiber, being also a great source of vitamins B and C as well as folate and potassium. It is a low calorie food that supports cardiovascular health and regulates blood pressure (effects of potassium), lowers cholesterol due to its fiber content, controls glucose absorption (good for diabetes) and boosts our immune system in general (effect of vitamin C). The healthiness score is a 3 out of 3 (🥑🥑🥑) as the dish is fully beneficial to the body.
The recipe below feeds approximately 5 people as a main dish. Cooking time is around 30 mins depending on the okra we use, especially on whether is fresh or frozen (frozen okra takes less to cook). Consequently the time score is 1 out of 3 (⌛). As true okra lovers, we find the dish really tasty, comforting and healthy and give it an overall score of 3 out of 3 (😋😋😋).
Okra is widely sold in Greece and some other Mediterranean countries. In other countries okra can be difficult to find (especially medium sized) and one has to go to a specialist grocery. Therefore the ingredients score is 3 out of 3 (🔎🔎🔎). The ingredients are as follows:
- 500 gr okra (medium size is preferred)
- 1 big onion finely chopped
- 350 gr of fresh tomato juice (preferably) or passata
- Juice from 1 squeezed small lemon
- ~1 teaspoon of salt
- A bit of pepper (according to your wishes)
- Water (as much as needed)
- 1 teacup + 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (should be always added at the end)
In terms of preparation score, it receives 2 out of 3 (🍳🍳) as it requires close supervision. Follow the steps below:
- Add 3 tablespoons of olive into a pan to warm up.
- Add the chopped onion and the okra. Brown your mixture until the onion is seared and the okra loses its moisture.
- Add the tomato and lemon juice, salt and pepper.
- Add water making sure that it does not fully cover the mixture.
- Let the mixture simmer for about 20 mins without stirring (okra is very easily mashed!) until okra softens. The time depends on whether okra is fresh or frozen, i.e., frozen okra requires less time.
- During this time we gradually add water as needed, without fully covering the mixture!
- Switch off the hob, add the olive oil and shake slightly the pan. Do not use a lapel for stirring as you can very easily mash your okra which is undesirable.
It is important that olive oil is added the end of the cooking for two reasons: (1) it retains its full taste and (2) it retains all its nutritional value, some of which is destroyed with cooking.
Bamies are greatly accompanied by homemade french fries. For a healthier version of french fries you can use an air frier.
Cretans also accompany okra with a mildly salty Feta cheese.
For the meat lovers, okra could be also accompanied with any type of cured meat products, such as salami or mortadella.
Last but not least, our okra requires some bread to go with, preferably a healthy Cretan wholemeal bread. Follow this link (Cretan healthy bread with a breadmaker) to see our version of delicious Cretan wholemeal bread. If you prefer the traditional hand made bread version follow this link (handmade Cretan healthy bread).
Recipe last edited: 12/02/2019
© Recipe and photos by Agisilaos Papadogiannis