Ah gnaouia, this unmissable dish that is present on all Tunisian tables! I can’t even believe that it took almost 600 recipes published on 196 flavors so far before we published this recipe that I grew up on throughout my childhood, just as much as our first recipe on the blog, pkaila!
Gnaouia, gnawia, or marqet gnaouia (مرقة قناوية) is also traditionally called gnaouia marsaouia. Indeed, this okra stew, which is an integral part of Tunisian gastronomy, is originally from La Marsa.
The gnaouia recipe is traditionally cooked with kid (young goat), which is a very popular meat in Tunisia. However, since this meat can be quite difficult to find, it is now often replaced by chicken, lamb or veal.
Where does okra come from?
Okra is a species of tropical flowering plant native to Africa, close to the hibiscus that can grow up to 6 feet high. Its fruit, also known as okra, comes in the form of a pyramidal capsule. It is harvested green and is used as a vegetable or as a condiment.
The skin of the okra is covered with velvety layer. It contains a jelly-like substance that is often used to thicken soups and stews, like gnaouia.
Okra was then introduced to Europe by the Spanish Moors in the 12th century. It did not arrive in Brazil until the seventeenth century, with African slaves who also brought it to New Orleans before it became popular throughout the United States in the late eighteenth century.
In Tunisia, okra was first cultivated in Djérid, a semi-desert region in the south-west of Tunisia, and later in the vicinity of Sidi Daoud near La Marsa. Even if the cultivation of gnaouia then spread in the north-west of the country, in Béja and Jendouba, around Bizerte, this vegetable remains in the collective memory of Tunisians as the vegetable from La Marsa. And it is this vegetable which is at the origin of the stew of the same name that I am sharing today: marqet gnaouia (stew of okras).
How do you remove the sliminess of okra?
There are several possible methods to prevent the secretion of the gelatinous substance of okra that some people do not like.
The first is not to cut the okra. The second method is to blanch them for 5 minutes in boiling water with a few drops of vinegar before rinsing under cold water to stop the cooking. You then just have to dry them before cooking.
If they are to be eaten cut, they can be soaked whole in water with vinegar for at least 30 minutes. Then, ideally fry them quickly in very hot oil before using them. This is part of the method I chose to reduce the sliminess in my gnaouia recipe.
How do you store okra?
Okra is consumed almost all over Africa throughout the year. However, okra is a fairly fragile vegetable that can only be kept for two to three days in the refrigerator, ideally wrapped in a paper bag. Dried, it can then be preserved for several months. This drying method is often used in Africa to store okra for winter stews.
The various names of okra around the world
In Greece, it is called bamya. In Iran, bamieh. In the Maghreb, people call it gnawia (or ganaouia). In Chad, its name is darraba. Lalo or bamya in Turkey and Sudan. It is called quiabo in Brazil. Kalalou (calalou) in Haiti. Lalo in Mauritius. Nkui in Cameroon. Dongó dongó in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fétri in Togo. Poang barang in Cambodia.
The name “gombo” used in French and other languages, originates from the Bantu word of the Angolan region to designate the vegetable, ki-ngombo.
What are the health benefits of okra?
Okra is a low calorie vegetable. Indeed, it does not contain more than 30 calories per serving (3 oz). It is rich in dietary fiber, contains protein, magnesium, vitamin C and very little fat.
But its benefits do not stop there. Indeed:
– It helps to reduce asthma,
– Okra is not only excellent for transit, but it is also a very good cholesterol regulator,
– It boosts the immune system thanks to its vitamin C (among other things),
– It prevents kidney disease,
– The high level of vitamins, including vitamins A, B (B1, B2, B6) and C, as well as zinc and calcium make okra the ideal vegetable to consume during pregnancy,
– The dry seeds of okra can be used as an infusion to help reduce fever,
– It also has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-oxidant and anti-diabetic properties,
– It contains many other nutrients that are vital for good health, such as manganese, vitamin K, iron, copper, magnesium, potassium or vitamins B2, B3, B6 and B9.
Although its use is mainly culinary, the leaves and flowers of okra, prepared in a water bath, are known to relieve blisters of the feet and hands. And prepared as an infusion, they facilitate childbirth.
Yes, who would have thought that gnouia was doing such miracles!
Other traditional okra recipes around the world
In Algeria, okra is also used in a tajine recipe along with quince (طاجين السفرجل بالقناوية).
The vegetable is often used in African dishes, such as yétissé, in which okras are crushed and mixed with rice before being served. In Zimbabwe, delele (or derere) is a recipe of breaded and fried okra. In Liberia, okra is often incorporated into the traditional dish of chicken palava, in addition to spinach. Maafé and thieboudienne, these typical dishes of West Africa, also often use the cone-shaped vegetable. In Reunion, rougail okra is all the rage.
In the Caribbean too, okra is particularly popular and it is an integral part of fungi (or cou-cou), a side dish prepared with cornmeal. In Indian bindhi masala, okra is fried before being seasoned with garam masala.
And of course, there is also Louisiana’s legendary stew with shellfish and/or meat, called gumbo, but which can also be prepared without okra as a thickener.
How do you prepare a Tunisian gnaouia?
Gnaouia (or marqet gnaouia) is a fairly easy recipe to make. The chicken version is quick and can be ready in less than 45 minutes. The version with veal, lamb or beef, will take at least 1h to 1h30.
Cooking okra is a matter of preference. I personally prefer okra that are half-cooked. Some people will prefer a vegetable that will almost melt in the plate, which was the preference at home when prepared by my mother or my grandmother.
Also, you can use fresh (or canned peeled) tomatoes, tomato paste, or a mix of both. Again, my personal preference is for tomato paste only, as I prefer a more onctuous and concentrated sauce.
Gnaouia can be served by itself with bread on the side, or with semolina couscous to accompany.
Tunisian gnaouia is a meal that I prepare quite regularly, especially for Shabbat dinners (Friday night) and which is always a hit at home. A delicious meal, and a vegetable with countless health benefits. So what are you waiting for to make this recipe?
- 4 pieces chicken (thighs or drumsticks for example)
- 1 onion , chopped
- 2 cloves garlic , pressed
- ½ lb okra
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon harissa
- 1 tablespoon tabel karouia (or a mixture of coriander, caraway and paprika)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- Rinse the okra. Cut the top of the vegetables and discard.
- Soak in vinegar water for at least half an hour.
- In a large pot, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil for two minutes.
- Add the chicken, salt and pepper. Continue to fry and brown the chicken on all sides.
- Then add the tomato paste, harissa, spices, and 1 cup of water. Simmer for 5 minutes over medium heat.
- Add 4 cups of boiling water and cook for 15 more minutes.
- Add the gombos, drained and rinsed. Stir and continue cooking for another 20 to 25 minutes.
- Serve hot with bread or couscous semolina.