When one thinks of Lebanese or Middle Eastern food, the first thing that comes to mind are the favorites; Hummus, Baba Ganoush, Stuffed Grape Leaves, Shawarma, Kibbe, Falafel and Kabobs. The truth is that food from the Middle East is much more diverse, with significant influences throughout the centuries by many different cultures.
Stews and one pot meals served with rice, rice vermicelli, Bulgur wheat or couscous are more typical representations of meals served throughout the Middle East and North Africa. One of my favorites is a stew made with meat and bemyeh (baby whole okra). Before you say no to okra, consider this, most people do not know how to properly use and cook okra in a dish. Too often the wrong type of okra is used and cooked for too long creating a meal that is unfortunately described as “slimy” and / or stringy.
For this meal and all other meals and dishes that I cook using okra, I always use whole baby okra that can typically be found in the frozen food section of your local, Middle Eastern or Asian grocery store. Lebanese cooking is rich with flavors, using a wide range of spices and herbs, but the actual process of preparing is typically very simple.
- 1 Lbs. of Stew Meat (Beef or Lamb), Cut to desired size
- 2 Lbs. of Small Whole Okra (Fresh or Frozen)
- 1 Chopped Onion
- 10 Chopped Garlic Cloves (not Minced, not Sliced)
- 1 Tablespoon of Tomato Paste
- 3 – 4 Chopped Tomatoes
- ¼ Cup of Lemon Juice
- 1 Tablespoon of Ground Black Pepper
- ½ Teaspoon of Ground Allspice
- ¼ Teaspoon of Ground Cinnamon (optional, but you really should include)
- 1 Teaspoon of Chili Paste (Sambal)
- Salt to taste
- 3 -4 Tablespoons of Vegetable Oil
- Heat vegetable oil in a pot and sauté the chopped onion, diced garlic and meat until the meat changes color.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, lemon juice, chili paste and spices (ground black pepper, allspice and cinnamon)
- Add water to just cover the ingredients in the pot, place a lid on the pot and cook on medium heat for 45 minutes. The meat should be tender. If not tender, cook for another 15 minutes.
- Taste and add salt as needed.
- Wash the okra (if fresh), and gently stir mix the okra into the stew.
- If needed, add more water to just cover the ingredients.
- Lower the heat to medium-low with the pot uncovered until the stew thickens.
- Taste again and add additional salt as needed.
Although best served with Rice Vermicelli, Lebanese Okra and Meat Stew also goes well with steamed white rice. The result is for a stew that is tender, with the okra remaining whole and no one flavor standing above the others.