Monday, March 26, 2012

Okra Stew (Margat Bamya)مرقة باميا

(Makes 4 servings)

First, an interesting bit of history on okra ‘hibiscus esculentus’, Arabic bamya:

This vegetable was mentioned in ancient Iraq on Assyrian cuneiform tablets dealing with herbal medicines. It was called ‘ubanu,’ literally ‘finger’, which brings to mind the English name for okra, ‘lady’s fingers,’ and Iraqi vernacular for okra banya.

Okra stew (margat bamya)
Today, okra is a very popular vegetable in Iraq. It is exclusively used for making margat bamya (okra stew). No spices are used in preparing it, and yet, it will come out wonderfully delicious. I think what puts off many people, who did not grow up eating it, from dealing with it is the sticky substance that comes out when it is cut open. The traditional Iraqi way to get rid of most of the slime is to cut off both ends of the okra, making sure some of the holes show, and then wash it under running water for a long time. I find this tedious and time consuming. A better way to deal with it is to cut off both ends making sure some of the holes show, wash it briefly, and then boil it briefly for no more than 5 minutes (it should still look vibrantly green). Strain it and use it immediately, or let it cool off, and freeze it for future use. I usually buy a whole box of fresh okra, prepare it this way and keep it in the freezer. Very convenient.

When buying okra from the market, I recommend you look for medium-sized ones about 2 inches long, but since these are hard to find in the markets, you can cut the long ones in half. Another thing, choose the ones which do not sound crunchy when gently squeezed between the fingers, these will more likely be fibrous in texture. Or buy frozen okra, just wash it in a colander and use as directed below. 

4 to 6 chunks of lamb on the bone, such as trimmed lamb shanks, cut in half (2−2½ pounds)
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
5 to 6 cloves garlic, whole and leave skin on
3 heaping tablespoons tomato paste (one 6-oz can) diluted in 4 cups hot water
1½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon pomegranate syrup, or ½ teaspoon sugar and 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 pound fresh or frozen okra (follow directions given above)
2 to 3 small dried hot peppers, optional

In a medium heavy pot, sauté meat pieces in oil, until browned, about 10 minutes. Add hot water, enough to cover the meat. Bring to a quick boil, skimming as needed, and then let simmer gently, covered, on low heat until meat is tender and moisture has evaporated, about 45 minutes. If meat is cooked and there is still some liquid in the pot, strain it and use it as part of liquid required in the recipe. 

To the meat pot, add garlic cloves and stir for 30 seconds. Stir in the rest of ingredients and bring pot to a quick boil, skimming as needed, then reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently, covered, until sauce is rich and somewhat thickened (35 to 40 minutes).

Serve the stew with white plain rice or bulgur along with slices of onion and green pepper. Another popular way of serving okra stew is having it as tashreeb: put bite-size pieces of flat bread in a deep dish and drench it with the stew sauce. Arrange meat pieces and garlic on top.

The fun part is eating the cooked whole garlic cloves: Hold the garlic clove between your thumb and index finger and squeeze out the soft pulp into your mouth, discard the skin. Yummy!

Photo Nawal Nasrallah 
(Recipe adapted from my cookbook Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine)


  1. Waw, It looks so much like what my mother used to prepare for us back home. Even the colors are similar. Surely enough my wife tries but the lamb quality is the downside of the Bamya here in MA. BTW the best Bamya in my beloved Baghdad is served by Ibn Simina restaurant(this is a restaurant in Souk El sufafeer believe it or not).
    Your blog is a nice discovery, keep up the good work

    1. Thanks! I have heard a lot of Ibn Simina but unfortunately have never had the chance to taste his food. It have been quite a noisy experience having a meal at his place in the copper market.

  2. Ms. Nasrallah, the food is so good that your senses are fully occupied with the tongue taste buds experience and you forget the surrounding sounds. Well, the Qaisy is his second favorite. This got me back to when I was telling my mum how good he was and she would get so offended and says"y3ni shino, its just how we all do it" and my reply would be "sure Mum".

  3. Well done Nawal, My mother in Hillah was good baker of bread (خبز) while we are kids we waiting for hot bread and eat with first plate of small amount of Bamya very testy.
    Also She use to use paces of lamb meats with fat (ليٌه) that give some very nice taste (I know now days this may consider not healthy but use small amount for the cooking pot).
    Nawal you forgot that تشريب Bamya will serve with Onions (Iraqi ones) very yummy.


  4. For the records, the cuts form preparing Bamya I use to have them dried under Iraqi sun and crashed them making fine powder mix with small amount of water & use them as adhesive for making "طيارة ورق”


  5. Many thanks Say. I appreciate your comments. You are right, thareed bamya (okra stew with flat bread) is really delicious. I know that the sheep's tail fat (liyya) people used in the past must have enhanced the taste, but it is tough to get. And having this stew with fresh onion slices is a must. How did I miss this?!

    Very interesting about the adhesive made from the cut off ends of bamya. We used to buy this powder, called shrees, from the grocer.

  6. called shrees, from the grocer.

    Thank you for your words Nawal, yes its like shrees شريس but small different also not good as shrees but will do same job.

    I would add there are two type of Okra one called Hussienawiah and other one Batrrah, In Hilla was most common used we cooking Hussienawiah but then Battrah was comes through and test good we moved to Baghdad and we like to Cooke Battrah Bamya.

    We use to plant Bamya in our new house we move in 1966 its very tasty and delicious from those we bay from veggie market. we use my mother asking us to harvest every two days to get very fresh and before grow in size very delicious.

    The difference between Hussienawiah “ حسيناوية “ but then Battrah " بـَـتْره ", bigger in size and look, Hussienawiah more slim and narrow while Battrah more thick and bigger also brighter green color.


  7. i dont know why i just made margat bamya and it doesn't smell the same as back home :( .. well probably bcz i used beef meet that i have in the fridge and it doesnt have bones!! i know i know ( i am killin the bamya like this) thanks for the nice food writings i was in the Delights from the Garden of Eden its beautiful website that i can use it to see what dish i wanna have from time to time and to know about each dish history and benefits :) also i can get how to cook each dish from here isn't it great !! my next dish to kill is hamodh shalgham <3 i miss it alot

  8. Hi
    Many thanks for telling me about your cooking adventures. Good that you are able to diagnose the cause of 'death'. Good luck with the hamodh shalgham and please try not to 'murder' it!