Last year, while traveling in southern Egypt, we visited an area largely occupied by Nubians. Nubia used to exist between Aswan (the first cataract in the Nile) and Khartoum (the fifth cataract), but Nubia has been absorbed by Egypt in the north and Sudan in the south. The Nubians were further displaced when the Aswan High Dam flooded their traditional lands. But they rebuilt their distinctive villages inland from where they originally lived. While in the area, at most meals, we had okra casserole (bamya is Egyptian Arabic for “okra,” and tagen, which morphs into tagine by the time you reach Morocco, means “casserole”).
A couple of notes: stock/bouillon cubes may seem like a short cut, but they are very authentic, as most of rural Egypt is kind of thin on refrigeration in private homes. As for the oil, corn oil or ghee (clarified butter) would be the most commonly used. I use a combination of olive oil and unsalted butter—because corn oil is just not that good for you, plus I have a refrigerator, so I don’t need to use clarified butter (which can be kept without refrigeration).
Frozen okra is commonly used (and was what we bought in the market in Egypt), because while homes may not always have refrigeration, shops do, so veggies can be had even in the dry season or in desert locales. However, this dish can be made with a couple of pounds of fresh okra. But if you use fresh, be sure to trim the caps of the okra—just cut a thin layer off the top and around the edge of the “cap.” I have introduced friends to this dish, and even among those leery of okra, it was a big hit. The recipe below makes enough for a crowd, but if you’re not making it for a party, you can cut the recipe in half. Enjoy.
2 Tbs. vegetable oil, or combination of oil and unsalted butter
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 large onions, chopped
4 large tomatoes, chopped (about 4 cups)
2 large green peppers, chopped
2 1-lb. packages frozen okra
3 Tbs. tomato paste
2 chicken stock cubes
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper, or to taste
1 lemon, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
In a large (8 quarts is good) casserole dish, heat the oil/butter and, stirring frequently, fry the onion and garlic until brown. Add the green pepper and tomato and stir. Add the okra, tomato paste, stock cubes, red pepper, and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add water to cover ingredients. Cover the casserole and place in the oven. Bake for 45–50 minutes.
Remove casserole from oven. Place lemon slices on top of okra. Serve hot.
© 2009 Cynthia Clampitt