Vegan khoresht bamieh, okra stew, is a very easy to make tomato-based Persian stew. Assembling this stew is pretty straightforward. You sauté the aromatics, add the okra, and finish the dish with fried tofu. This vegan khoresht bamieh will definitely appeal to okra lovers and haters alike.
One of the reasons okra is disliked so much is its sliminess. Okra has a slightly viscous texture and can become slimy when cooked. The pods’ walls contain mucilage, a gel like substance similar to alo vera, and release it during cooking. But, by cooking them whole as in this recipe and using the right techniques, the sliminess won’t be a problem anymore. Furthermore, the acidity added by the sour grapes reduces okra’s production of mucilage.
All Persian’s tomato-based stews are prepared the same way. Once you master one, you can cook the rest like a pro. You start by frying the onions until caramelized or slightly golden in my case. Then you add garlic, if using, and other spices called for in the recipe and let them fry for few more minutes to become fragrant. I added sour grapes in this recipe, but you can use Persian limes or fresh lemon juice instead.
I always add my tomato paste at this stage of cooking and let it fry with the onion mixture. The key to a tasty sauce is to let the tomato paste fry in oil along with spices and other aromatic ingredients like onions and garlic. This would boost the flavor of the sauce in a huge way and add a saffron like color to the sauce.
By adding water to the onion mixture, a tasty sauce is created which is the base of all tomato-based Persian stews. Being that this dish is vegan, you can add vegetable stock if you like, but this sauce has so much flavors already that there is really no need for it.
I always add ground saffron to most of my dishes. It’s a real expensive spice, but a pinch of it goes a long way.
Some cooks don’t fry the tomato paste and add it along with water. The order in which the water is added doesn’t really matter if you know how much to add. Otherwise, it’s best to add the vegetables to the onion mixture first then add enough water to cover the vegetables. You don’t want to end up with soup.
When the sauce is ready, layer okras in the pot. I usually fry them for up to 10 minutes first, but forgot to do so here. The end result was just as good, so it’s up to you whether to fry them or not.
For the best texture and flavor, buy the smallest okra pods you can find. Choose okra that is deeply colored and firm. Avoid okra that is oversized or too ripe, it will be even more slimy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find small pods, so I ended up with these large and unevenly sized pods. If you take the time to pick the same-sized pods, they would cook more evenly.
Refrigerate okra tightly wrapped in a plastic bag. If there is much surface moisture, slip a sheet of paper towel in the bag to absorb it. Incidentally, these tips work with all fresh herbs and vegetables. To reduce okra’s sliminess keep the pods intact and using a small paring knife carefully remove the leathery cap at the stem end.
I got distracted and my stew overcooked a little and few okras burst open. However, that only affected its presentation, not its taste. Actually, the juices given off by overcooked okras provided a delicate thickening to the stew. If you don’t want yours to overcook, definitely use a timer and check often toward the end of cooking process.
The vegan khoresht bamieh is ready when the sauce has reduced and oil has separated to the top. Add fried tofu and adjust the seasoning. For a detailed instruction on preparing tofu check my recipe for vegetarian khoresht kadoo.
Serve over fragrant basmati polo.
Vegan Khoresht Bamieh
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 1 hour
Ready in: 1 hour 15 min
Yields: 4 servings
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion chopped
3 large garlic cloves chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon turmeric
1½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¾ cup fresh sour grapes ghooreh or ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups hot water
pinch of ground saffron (optional)
1½ pounds fresh okra
1 14 oz. package extra firm tofu (optional) cut into cubes and fried
To make the sauce, heat oil in a deep pan over medium high-heat. Add chopped onions and fry for about 20 minutes or until onions are slightly golden. Add chopped garlic, tomato paste, turmeric, salt, pepper and sour grapes. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the tomato paste is fried and changes the color of oil to a deep yellow-orange.
They key to a tasty sauce is to let the tomato paste fry in oil along with spices and other aromatic ingredients like onions and garlic. This would boost the flavor of the sauce in a huge way.
Finish the sauce by mixing in hot water and saffron. By adding hot water, the temperature of the dish remains the same, thus reducing the cooking time.
Add in okras. Bring to a gentle simmer. Lower heat to medium low and cook for about 30 minutes or until okras are tender. Do not overcook okra.
When stew is ready, add fried tofu. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Serve over aromatic basmati polo.