Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bamia (Okra Stew) for Cook the Books: "Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots"

Okra will probably never make my list of favorite foods but I am learning to appreciate it more and more. I like it especially when it is flavored with plenty of spices, like in this Bamia, a Middle Eastern okra stew. The recipe comes from Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots a novel by Jessica Soffer and our Cook the Books October/November pick, hosted by Simona of Briciole.

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is an interesting book--on one hand I loved it for the food descriptions and imagery that filled it, but I also found myself very slow at working my way through it, as the story made me sad--there is so much loneliness, pain and loss captured in its pages. Lorca is a 14-year-old girl who is desperate to gain the love and attention of her very distant (to the point of being cruel) mother. Her mother is a chef and Lorca tries to show and earn love through food and cooking and caring for this cold woman. (Can you tell I desperately did not like this woman!?) Lorca deals with her pain and abandonment (her father, who her mother left back in New Hampshire is a piece of work as well) by cutting and other ways of self-harm and when she is discovered injuring herself in a school bathroom stall by a classmate and suspended, her mother decides to send her to boarding school. Lorca is desperate and hopes that by recreating, Masgouf, a special Iraqi fish dish from a restaurant that her mother declared was the most delicious food she had tasted, her mother will allow her to stay. Searching out the restaurant and recipe leads Lorca to Victoria, who along with her husband, owned the restaurant where Lorca's mother ate the Masgouf. Victoria is dealing with the very recent death of her husband and some big secrets from her past and she and Lorca are drawn together as Victoria teaches her how to make the dish and other Iraqi specialties.  

The book is full of food and food references, lovingly described by the author and I liked how these two women, generations apart, bonded over cooking and ingredients. I found the descriptions of the cutting and Lorca's emotional pain very difficult to read--at one moment I would be tempted by the descriptions of a dish and the next I would find my stomach turning with a description of the self-mutilation, which threw of the rhythm of the book for me. There were also some plot points and twists that didn't quite hold up for me and I wanted more from the ending. Still, I hold out hope that the title of the book (taken from an Arabic saying "Bukra fil mish mish") comes true and tomorrow, apricots may bloom for Lorca and Victoria.

In addition to many dishes, French, Iraqi, simple and complex, there are a handful of recipes in the book: Wild Mushroom Quiche with Wood Thyme Stem, Date Spread, Chicken in Half Mourning, the coveted Masgouf, and Bamia, the okra stew that Victoria teaches Lorca to make and feeds her and that Lorca gives to her friend Blot. Since I can buy locally-grown okra and I loved the combination of spices, I decided to make the Bamia and serve it with rice and some naan bread I had sitting about to soak up the flavorful tomato juices.

Bamia (Okra Stew)
Adapted from Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer
(Serves 2)

2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 tsp garlic, grated
2 cups stewed tomatoes (I used 1 14.5 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes)
3/4 tsp each: cardamom, curry powder, ground ginger
1/2 tsp each: paprika, red pepper flakes, celery seeds
1 1/2 lbs fresh okra, washed and chopped into inch-long pieces
lemon juice, salt, and black pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Sauté onions until translucent and add garlic and sauté until fragrant.

Add spices and tomatoes and continue cooking for five minutes, stirring consistently. Add the okra and cook for 12-15 minutes or until okra is soft, stirring very infrequently. Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve with long grain rice.

Notes/Results: Such delicious and exotic flavor from the mix of spices (curry, paprika, celery seed, cardamom, ground ginger and red pepper flakes) that it compensates for the natural sliminess of the okra. I did try to limit it as I could by not stirring it very much as it cooks but there is still a fair amount. It is less noticeable with the rice and I enjoyed both the serving I ate freshly made and the leftovers reheated. I also liked the brightness that the lemon juice added to the mix. Online there are several recipes for bamia with meat, but this recipe is vegan and when served with the rice and flatbread, it is a satisfying dish. I would make it again. 

Because it is a stew, I am linking my Bamia up to this week's Souper Sundays, hosted weekly here at Kahakai Kitchen. If you aren't familiar, Souper Sundays is my weekly soup tribute that includes sandwiches, and salads and is open to anyone and everyone who wants to share a soup, salad, or sandwich post that week. You can see the details for joining in on the current weekly post here--we would love to have you!

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is my sixteenth foodie book entry for the Foodies Read 2016 event. You can check out the November Foodies Read linkup, hosted by Heather at Based on a True Story, to see what everyone is reading this month.  

The deadline for this Cook the Books round is today, November 30th and Simona will be rounding up the delicious entries at the CTB site shortly after. If you missed out on this round and like books, food, and foodie books, consider joining us for December/January  when I will be hosting with the foodie memoir, Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home. Hope you join us!



  1. read this book too, enjoyed the story:)

  2. There has been so much variety in what people have been inspired to make because of this book.

  3. I wish I could taste your Bamia, Deb. Okra intrigues me because of its shape, but I am afraid to buy it as I am afraid to cook it. Still, your recipe makes my mouth water, as I like all the spices that go in it. It was difficult to control negative reactions towards Lorca's mother, going through life as if driving a bulldozer, intent on destroying everything in her path. The story shows though that we all have limitations in how we handle life, but being generous towards others and ourselves is a better approach. Thank you for your contribution to this edition of Cook the Books.

  4. Bamia had made my list of possibilities too Deb...I am glad that someone chose it. Your version sounds wonderful.

  5. Having spent a lot of time in Louisiana due to my work, I really appreciate okra. It's underappreciated outside that area. Great recipe.

  6. Will have to wait for summer here before I can find more okra. The spices in this dish sound amazing. I agree with your account of the book. I found NO sympathy for Lorca's mother at all.


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