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.
Since weekend is hours away, and since Sunday is the first day of my Arabic Cooking Basics course, I thought to put you in the mood and give you a taster of Arabic casseroles. I have chosen okra casserole, because it is a tricky one to get right. When done right, it is by all means a treat! When not done right, it can put you off the whole thing, enough not to ever want to eat okra again! I know many who thought they did not like okra Casserole, but then they tried this recipe and fell in love with it.
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. It is all about hot oil here, if the oil is hot enough to coat the okra and cook it quickly, the slime is out. Also, the slime is only present when the okra is undercooked. Once fried properly and cooked through no slime will be present. 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 precook 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 overcooked, nor undercooked, they all cook equally and perfectly together, yet you end up with a reduced sauce and thickened enough to go fabulously with either 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.