Sunday, 14 July 2013

Okra hotpot (Μπάμιες στην κατσαρόλα)

Here's a very simple seasonal hotpot for the summer, using one of those vegetables that people either love or hate. When fresh okra isn't prepared properly, it can be very slimy and unpalatable, rather like snails, when they aren't prepared properly. But if you know how to prepare them, then they are simply a dream.

My mother loved the taste of okra in tomato sauce; but in New Zealand, she could only get them canned (in tomato sauce), as they were never sold fresh in pre-1990s Wellington. These days, they, like most unusual fruit and vegetables, such as pomegranate, another exotic species that I knew all about in theory, but had never seen, let alone touched in its fresh form until I came to Greece, are readily available in Asian markets. My mother would add the canned okra to finish off a chicken pot roast just as the chicken was nearly done.

Okra can be roasted with meat, or braised on the stovetop, with or without meat. I generally prefer to cook meat separately from my vegetarian dishes, so here's how I cooked okra today in the pot. My recipe is based on the classic Greek recipe for braised okra. A word of warning: this dish will only taste as good as the quality of your okra.

You need:
a bag of prepared okra (you can find them in the freezer section of the supermarket; if you have bought them fresh, you need to prepare them first, as I do here, apparently the best way to do it, according to many happy readers)
a large onion, finely sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
a can of pureed tomatoes (I use my own home-made tomato sauce)
a wineglass of olive oil
some water
some wine (optional)
3-4 slim small zucchini, cut in half lenghthways (optional)
2-3 small potatoes, cut in quarters (optional)
oregano, salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan, and saute the onion and garlic. Add the okra and coat well in oil. Let cook for 5 minutes. If  using potatoes and zucchini, add them now and coat them well in olive oil too. Now add the tomato, oregano, salt and pepper. Shake the pot around so that the tomato spreads out. Don't stir with a spoon too much because the okra is liable to break (and become gooey). Then add the wine (which you don't need to add if you prepared your okra fresh, using wine to soak them), and shake the pot around again. You may need water to bring the liquids up to just cover the vegetables. Close the pot with a lid, and let the okra cook away for an hour or so on the lowest heat setting.

For additional taste, pour the ready okra over some grilled meat in a roasting dish and cook for 20 minutes in the oven in moderate heat. The okra will become crunchy.

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