Monday, 26 August 2013

August 20 - Yammi, a bami!

The summer is moving towards its end and still plenty of tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, beans and watermelons are being served. There are even beetroots still being served (although I think of them as winter dish). I’m slowly starting to long for cabbages and spinach, but we have to wait for the winter for them to appear in the fields. My local market gardener actually succeeded in growing green salad (marouli) in the summer heat (this also is regarded as a winter dish), and it was a welcome change from endless tomato salads (choriatiki), and I used it to combine wonderfully with different wild herbs and dried tomatoes.

I must admit that by the end of August I have had enough of tomatoes (and for sure I have eaten too much watermelon). But now the real work is about to start: preserving tomatoes. Even though you might feel as if you’ve eaten five years’ worth of tomatoes; as soon as the first showers start encouraging the rotting process of the last tomatoes, you’ll get that feeling: gosh!, I really do like a big tasty red tomato. And you cannot do without tomatoes in the Greek kitchen. I once had a Greek cookbook (most likely thrown away because of its poor quality because now I cannot find it anywhere) containing recipes, which were predominantly tomato based

I have to admit that I now also use a lot of tomatoes in my dishes: they are a fine seasoner. When in winter you want to make a fish soup or simply a spaghetti sauce it is handy to always have some tomato sauce in the freezer or preserved in a pot. So you’d better preserve tomatoes in the summer.

In past years I have made lots of tomato sauces, in which I also put other vegetables and herbs like aubergines, paprika, courgettes, parsley and basil: whatever remained in the garden and had to be finished. But since I got a new oven in which I can bake pizza, I make a pure sauce, just tomatoes. Pizzas already have enough ingredients so a neutral sauce is better; although you couldn’t possibly call the rich taste of Greek tomatoes dull. So I just reduce them to a thick sauce, with just a little salt and pepper added and end up with a first class tomato sauce.

One of the many Greek summer dishes with a sauce of these red rascals is Okra in Tomato Sauce (bamiès me saltsa). It is not on the list of the most familiar Greeks dishes (they are rarely available in restaurants), although okra was introduced centuries ago to the Greek kitchen. Growing okra is not as easy as growing tomatoes, nor is the harvest an easy job. Gathering these fruits demands patience because they are at their best when they are small (3 to 5 cm long) and picking them is work requiring gloves as the plant is highly allergic. This plant (Abelmoschus esculentus) often grows as long as two meters, though it belongs to the family of the low growing Malva and it has soft yellow, hibiscus-like flowers. Okra resembles some pulses and the taste is a little like green beans.

This vegetable is especially popular in India, Africa and in certain southern states of the United Nations (for Gumbo). The English gave them the elegant name of Lady’s Fingers, in Spanish they have the funny sounding name of quimbombó and in Greek (and other Arabian countries) they are named bamies (which sounds a little like the Indonesian dish popular in Holland: bami).

There are people who want to eat nothing else but bamies, once they appear in the fields. I took a long time to appreciate them and I’m still not keen on certain dishes like Bamies in Tomato Sauce or when combined with chicken (kotopoelo me bamies). What I don’t like is their sometimes slimy consistency.

My local market gardener grows them every summer and each summer he offers me this delicacy. He puts lots of time into harvesting them and he just can’t understand that I don’t like them. So I searched the web in order to find a nice recipe and eureka! I have found a nice one! It is a recipe where for some reason or other this ‘okrian’ sliminess does not occur, so you can eat them as very tasty Lady’s fingers: filled and fried okra, a dish coming from India, served as finger food or as a starter. You make a herb mix, cut the stem and head from the bamies, make a deep cut lengthwise (be careful not to halve them!), fill the cavity with the herb mix and fry them for a few minutes in a layer of oil till they are crispy. In preparation, pray for some patience, but it’s worthwhile. Further down you will find the recipe for the herb mixture: kali orexi!

(Besides bamiès, marouli and really tasty tomatoes the gardener on the road in Eftalou also sells white aubergines)

Mix for filled okra’s:
½ tsp ground peanuts
½ tsp ground coconut
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground chili
1 tsp sesame paste
½ tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2013

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