On the weekend, especially for Family Day, I love to cook food from home, mostly Casseroles. I like to gather up the family, and whoever is free from the extended family on the day along with some close friends, over a nice home cooked meal. For me nothing says Family Day like Arabic food. I guess it is in part because I grew up in Amman, a city where people celebrate home-cooked Arabic Cuisine. It is customary for family members and close friends to gather up on weekends to savour varieties of home-cooked Arabic food. The kids, get together with their cousins, and spend all afternoon running outdoors, playing, climbing trees and fences, while the adults catch up and gossip about everyone in the city lol
The Simple Joys of Life: Good Company & Good Food
Okra, as you may know, can get slimy, which is not very appetising. I have come to find that if you saute the okra along with some garlic in a little olive oil before you move on to cooking it as by the recipe, it will have better texture, taste way better and will turn out less to non slimy. Just simply use this step before you go on to cook okra like you normally do, then carry on as always.
Contrary to common belief that meats must always be cooked, blanched or browned before being added to food; in this casserole specifically, I do not pre-cook or brown the meat. I let it cook - in the oven - with the rest of the ingredients, in order for it not to be overdone. This way it will remain super tender, with a melt in your mouth consistency. I do however, cook the tomato sauce before adding to the meat and Okra, to have it only reduce in the oven. This way, nothing gets over cooked, yet the sauce is reduced and and thickened enough to go fabulously with either: Pita bread or rice on the side.
Taster's Choice This is a great dish to be served with just some bread and some Arak (similar to Ozo) for an elongated chat over food, like in the Mezze tradition. Traditionally Okra casserole is served with a side of fresh white or spring onions, green olives and cucumber pickles.
1Kg Fresh or Frozen Okra (best fresh, but if not available frozen will do)
500g cubed lamb meat
1 large onion sliced, I use red onions, but any type would do
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 green chilies, thinly sliced (optional)
1 bunch coriander, finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
500g finely diced tomatoes (tomatoes should be peeled before chopping)
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp Olive oil
1 cup fresh Tomato juice
Salt & Black pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
Start off by sauteing the Okra, along with 1 tbsp of sliced garlic, in a dash of olive oil. Do not stir, rather toss, as you don't want to break up the Okra. Also do not brown, just saute for about 10 minutes, tossing regularly.
Place the meat cubes in a colander, sprinkle with 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar, and set aside, till ready to cook.
In a large sauce pan, gently cook the onions, garlic slices, and chopped chilies in the 2 tbsp olive oil. Once translucent but not browned add the chopped coriander reserving 1 tbsp for garnish when done, stir to mix.
Then add the finely chopped tomatoes and stir to mix. Cook for 5 minutes, then add bay leaf, sugar, seasoning, tomato paste and juice and stir to mix all. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, Place the sauteed okra and meat cubes in a casserole or baking dish, top with the prepared tomato sauce, and gently fold to incorporate all. Sprinkle 1 tbsp coriander on top, and place in preheated over - 450F - for 30 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through and the sauce is reduced by half.
Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve immediately. You can serve with rice on the side or with Pita bread.
You can fry some Okra coated with flour and use it as garnish to this dish along with some toasted nuts. Flour coated, fried Okra is delicious, even on its own as a snack! It adds texture to the other wise very soft textures of this dish.
Don't push okra to the 'Don't Like' list until you have tried this recipe. I am telling you, you will love it. When we have guests over and I haven't planned a dinner, this is one dish, I can whip up in minutes, yet serve a fabulous dinner, that they will rave over for long! Try it :)
Hope you like today's recipe :) If you haven't tried cooking Arabic food, go on, try it! You will love it. There is nothing better than learning and trying something new... If you like Arabic food and want to learn more, then Join my Arabic Cooking Basics Course, where you will learn the makings of Arabic Cuisine. When you go back home, you will take a piece of the Middle East back with you, to help you tell stories for years to come :))
Meanwhile, would love nothing more than hearing your thoughts on this post, so don't shy away and leave a comment :))