Recipes, Side dishes, Vegetables

Bamiya Con Tomate – Okra Sephardic style

Okra Sephardic style Ronit PensoIt’s Okra season, and to those who love these weirdly shaped green pods, this means tasty okra dishes.There are so many delicious ways to cook okra – from the southern deep fried corn crusted okra to the Gumbo soups, Turkish okra pickles, Middle Eastern okra stews with lamb, West Indies Okra and coconut soup or in Vietnamese shrimp and pineapple soup.
However, many people dislike okra because of its slimy texture, which is not okra’s fault, but the cook’s. If you put some effort in preparing the okra the right way, you’ll find out you can produce an exquisite dish that brings out the best in okra, without any of the sliminess mentioned.

This okra dish origin is from my Sephardic grandmother, who was born in Izmir. Her family moved to Turkey when the Jews of Spain were expelled in 1492 (the very same year in which Columbus discovered America, with all its culinary treasures, such as tomatoes, potatoes and peppers.)
What is “Sephardic”, you might ask? Spain in Hebrew is “Sepharad” and so, those who fled Spain were therefore called “Sepharadim”. They have kept their Spanish language (called Ladino), as a way to keep communication going on between all the communities of those Sepharadim. Ladino later on absorbed words and terms from the languages of the countries where they have found refuge at. In the same manner, the Sephardic cooking traditions they have carried with them, were also slightly influenced by the cuisines of their adoptive countries. This is why in Turkey, they have used the Turkish term “Bamiya” for okra and added the Ladino “con tomate”, i.e. “with tomatoes”.

Sephardic cooks always prefer to put the emphasis on the ingredient itself, and use very little spices, if any. In this dish, the way the okra is prepared prior to cooking is what keeps it whole throughout the cooking and baking, and gives it a distinctive taste and texture. The long baking caramelizes the okra and the sauce – and the result is mouthwatering.
The dish is great warm or cold. It can be served as is, or with white rice, as an appetizer. It is also wonderful as a side dish for roasted chicken, grilled meat or fried fish.

Makes: 4-6
Prep time: 30 minutes
Baking time: 3 1/2 hours

1.3 Lbs (600 grams) fresh young okra pods
4 Tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1. Wash the okra and let dry on paper towels. With a sharp knife, carefully cut off the wider end in a cone shape, the way you would sharpen a pencil. Make sure not to cut all the way through to the seeds, as otherwise, the okra will lose its shape while cooking and the dish will become slimy.
Okra Sephardic style Ronit PensoOkra Sephardic style Ronit Penso
2. Preheat the oven to 225F (110C). Heat the oil in a large wide and deep pot and add the garlic. Fry very lightly, just until the garlic warms up but does not change color.
3. Add the prepared okra pods, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Add water just up to the okra level. Mix gently.
4. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes. Cover the pot and cook and for 5 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Okra Sephardic style Ronit PensoOkra Sephardic style Ronit PensoOkra Sephardic style Ronit PensoOkra Sephardic style Ronit Penso
5. Place the pot in the oven and bake for 3 hours. Remove the lid and bake for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat, but keep the pot in the oven for 30 minutes longer. Serve warm or cold.
Okra Sephardic style Ronit PensoOkra Sephardic style Ronit Penso Okra Sephardic style Ronit Penso

35 thoughts on “Bamiya Con Tomate – Okra Sephardic style”

  1. I’ve never tried okra- I’ve seen it many times but never thought of cooking it- my mistake. will have to try it, you say I could also cook it with meat? When the winter comes we eat a bit more meat but still it would be a sort of stew with vegetables, this would be a nice change then. Thank you for sharing this Ronit!


      1. hmmm I especially like the mention about fat ihihii I have to admit, that even if I desperately try to be vegetarian I like fatty pork for example especially if my dad prepares it. OK, so I will try it then, it’s decided 😀


  2. I very much enjoyed reading this! You know, I consider myself educated and pretty ‘worldly’ and well-traveled but I didn’t even know about Sephardic Jews until recently, even though I did know about the Jews being expelled from Spain. I simply love history and I learned that – until recent times – Muslims and Jews got along pretty well in the Arabian countries. When we lived in Malta I learned, when the Arabs ruled Malta, Jewish people had their own gate and they were charged a bit of a fee for ‘being Jewish’… except for that they were totally left alone and respected. And, during my husband and my travels to Syria or Turkey etc. we’d often hear, “This is where the Jewish people lived before Israel was founded. It’s all so fascinating. Thanks again for telling us a bit about your family background etc. !


    1. Thank you Cecile. 🙂
      I’m glad you’ve found this information interesting.
      Most of the Sephardic Jews left Spain to Italy and the Balkan countries in Europe. From there many ended up in Turkey, where as you say, the Muslims actually welcomed the Jews. Unfortunately, later on things have deteriorated dramatically and most of the Jews from Arab countries lost everything and ended up as refugees in Israel. Though for some odd reason, the world only acknowledges Arab refugees – maybe because the Jews always make it a priority to rehabilitate themselves no matter what…
      Another interesting thing I’ve learned in the last few years, after visiting New Orleans and Newport RI, is that the first Jewish settlers there were of Sephardic origin.
      History is indeed fascinating… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You just taught me something – I love it! I’ve been to New Orleans several times and lived in RI… yet I never knew the first Jewish settlers were of Sephardic origin. How did you happen to discover that?


        1. In Newport the Synagogue is at the center of town and they have a very nice visitors center that gives the history. In New Orleans a tour guide, who learned I’m originally from Jerusalem, gave me this information. In Savannah GA I visited the old cemetery, and found they have a Jewish section and from the dates and names it was clear.
          It really is quite fascinating, as later on the majority of Jewish communities in the US came from East Europe, and the influence of the Sephardic traditions was diminished with time. That is why here “Jewish food” is identified mostly with East European traditions, while in Israel there is much more culinary diversity.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Don’t you just love GOOGLE ! “The first Jews coming to North America settled in six communities: Newport, Rhode Island; New York; Philadelphia; Charleston, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; and Richmond, Virginia.” How about that!!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Doug. I’m so glad to hear!

      I enjoy “bringing back to life” such old, and sometimes forgotten, recipes.
      This is really a special recipe, where the most important “spice” is respect for the ingredient and patience – as in most Sephardic recipes. 🙂

      I hope you’ll enjoy the results. I’ll be happy to hear your comments.:)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad to hear, Sheryl. 🙂

      The cone shape helps in removing only the tough part of the stem, without cutting into where the seeds are, thus avoiding the cause of sliminess. It also helps keep the okra whole though this long cooking.
      While in some recipes it’s fine and even required to have it disintegrated, here it’s important to keep it whole.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. If you’ll cook it on a very small flame it will taste good, but no doubt you’ll miss the special caramelizing that baking in the oven adds, so it’s really up to you. Good luck and hope you’ll enjoy the dish any way you choose to cook it. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.