I mentioned okra to my neighbor, Mary; she looked puzzled. I said ” you know, the little green vegetable with a hat that is fried and dipped in ranch dressing”; her face lit up ” Oh, yes of course, I have only had it fried”; that’s because in Texas okra is fried Mary. In Lebanon and other parts of the near-east, it is stewed and eaten with or without meat on rice. When okra or bamiah stew was announced in my days at home in Beirut, I remember making a mental note to eat more halloum cheese that day! I did not really care for it; in fact, the fried okra that is traditional in Texas was more palatable to me! But hey, tastes change and I thought if I served it on a polenta tartlet, I might actually enjoy it.
Egyptians love okra too (they also call it bamiah); judging by my friend Phoebe’s reaction and comments whenever okra is mentioned, they eat it like Americans eat popcorn. A lot of it. I found some at the Palestinian grocer imported from Egypt and frozen; tiny, adorable little okra. Much easier to handle than the fresh ones!
- 1/2 box of instant polenta
- 2 cups of water or stock or a combination of the two
- spices for the polenta like white pepper, paprika, Aleppo pepper, or any spices you like
- butter or olive oil as needed
- 1 large onion
- 1 pound of tomatoes
- 3 cloves of garlic, mashed with a dash of salt
- 1 pound of small frozen okra
- a generous dash of Aleppo pepper or a red chili pepper
- one chunk of feta cheese, if desired
- Prepare the okra stew in advance, to save time; it can even be frozen. Chop the onion and fry in some olive oil. Dice the tomatoes and add to the onion mixture; add some water with some tomato paste if needed; cook for 30 minutes; add the mashed garlic the last 5 minutes of cooking. Cool and set aside.
- Fry the okra in a skillet with a bit of olive oil; add to the tomato sauce after stir-frying it for a few minutes. Cook the okra and tomato sauce with chili pepper on gentle heat for about 15 minutes. Reserve.
- Prepare the polenta: I used instant polenta, following the direction on the package; basically, heat boil some water or stock, add the polenta slowly and stir for a few minutes; it will thicken; add some butter to make it a bit tastier if you wish, add some spices and a bit of salt.
- Grease the tartlets with a brush and some olive oil; plop a generous 1/2 cup of polenta on each tartlet; using your fingertips, dip them in olive oil and pat the polenta evenly all over the tartlet mold. Brush oil on top of the tartlets.
- Bake the tartlets in a 400F oven for 10 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, place a few tablespoons of okra stew and reheat when ready to serve. Sprinkle some chopped parsley on the tartlets and serve warm. Sprinkle some nuggets of feta and broil 30 seconds till browned and soft.
NOTE: I always place the feta cheese in a bowl of water, that I change frequently, in order to desalt it a bit.
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