Sunday, 16 September 2007

Bamies (Μπάμιες με ψητό στο φούρνο - lady's fingers, okra)

Okra are an old-fashioned summer vegetable with an acquired taste that not many people are interested in eating these days, unless they have tasted them before and know how delicious they are when cooked properly. The preparation of these vegetables takes a long time, their texture is a little slimy, and their taste leaves much to be desired if they are not treated appropriately before being cooked. They are considered a specialty vegetable in African, Indian and Carribean cuisine. In Greece, they are eaten as a stew in a tomato sauce, or put into the roasting pan or a casserole with potatoes and meat. My mother used to buy tinned okra in New Zealand from an Italian grocer's on Pirie St. We would always have that revolting gooey seedy slime in a chicken casserole. It just made no sense to eat it in New Zealand when there was a plethora of other fresh vegetables available for roasting with meat, which my parents seemed hesistant to try themselves: kumara, pumpkin, baby squash. I had never seen fresh okra until I came to Greece, and only then could I appreciate why some people call it the king of summer vegetables. It has a unique chewy taste; when added to a roast, it tastes like jerky.

Okra need to be sun-dried before they are used, otherwise they will excrete an off-putting slimy juice. They also have a further preparation ritual: once the okra have been dried, you need to cut off the stalky top without slicing it off (be careful - their hairy texture can cause a slight rash), then they need to be "shaved" right around the cap where the stalk was cut off, but the cap must not be sliced off, otherwise they will become slimy once again. As if that's not enough, they also need to be soaked for about an hour in some wine or vinegar to remove the slime and bitterness. Here's what touregypt says about preparing okra: "Okra must be cooked so that its slimy texture is eliminated. The Greeks have the best technique - applause, applause! - for achieving this. Trim the conical tops with a sharp knife, then soak the okra in red wine vinegar for 30 minutes, allowing 1/2 cup wine per pound. Drain, rinse and dry the okra."

A friend of ours grows okra in his garden. When we visited him, he let us pick our own (we itched for hours afterwards). We're having them today in the traditional Sunday roast. There are no set amounts of ingredients in a roast: it always depends on the number of people eating. I used the famous Greek 'tapsi' - a large roasting pan used for making roasts and pies.

You need to:
Wash the pieces of lamb well to get rid of bone shards.
Peel and cut some potatoes in large quarter-moon chunks.
Puree some fresh tomatos in the blender (you can skin and de-seed them if you have time, but I never bother; without the seeds and skin, the sauce is thinner)
Arrange the meat and potatoes in the roasting dish, season with salt and pepper, pour over some olive oil and the the tomatos. Let them cook for half an hour before adding the prepared okra, as well as half a cup of water. Cook in medium heat until the meat and potatoes are tender. Okra don't need much cooking time, so make sure you don't add them at the beginning of the cooking time, otherwise they may burn. I cover the roasting dish with aluminium foil so that the food doesn't brown too quickly, and take it off half an hour before the end of the cooking time, raising the heat to give the roast a BBQ look.

For an alternative to the same dish, try this post.

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