RECIPE: Egyptian Bamia (Okra Stew)

People & Culture

Egyptian Bamia - okra stew, Egypt

There’s nothing like a healthy, home-cooked stew in the middle of winter to get warm and feel like you’ve fueled your body with a nutritious meal. In fact, you can take it an extra level in the “heat” scale and enjoy a healthy bowl of Egyptian Bamia.

Bamia is the Arabic word for okra, and is a stew primarily consisting of okra, lamb, and tomato. Originating in Africa and the Middle East, there are variations to bamia, depending on the country, including added spices, vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions (beef instead of lamb), and staple accompaniments. In Egypt, bamia is usually served with rice.

Okra, commonly known as lady fingers, is a tiny vegetable packed with nutrition, including fiber, iron, calcium, and vitamins A, C, B, and K. If you’ve never cooked okra before, you might notice a slimy texture when cutting the vegetable. That is perfectly normal, but if you’d like to avoid the sticky mess, perhaps start with the frozen version, found in most grocery stores. You can opt to buy them whole or cut. Either will work with this recipe.

Cityscape view of Cairo, including Giza Pyramids, Egypt
Cityscape view of Cairo, including Giza Pyramids

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 lb boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 lb frozen okra, whole or cut
  • lemon juice, to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat; add onions and cook for one minute. Add garlic and continue to saute until both are light golden brown.
  2. Lower heat and add spices to the mixture, frying for about one minute.
  3. Add chopped tomatoes, stirring until they get soft, for about 10-15 minutes.
  4. Lower heat and add spices to the mixture, frying for about one minute.
  5. Turn heat back up to medium and add the lamb, salt, and pepper. Fry the meat until it is lightly browned, approximately 5-10 minutes.
  6. Stir in tomato paste, thoroughly blending it with the lamb, and then add the water, again stirring it in well. Bring lamb mixture to a boil and reduce heat to low.
  7. After about 30 minutes of simmering, add the frozen okra, and a bit more water if needed.
  8. Simmer the bamia for about 20-30 minutes, until lamb is tender, stirring occasionally.
  9. When ready to serve, add lemon juice and mix well. Serve with rice.