While I love developing new recipes with twists and fusions of flavors, there are times when traditional recipes, those that have been barely altered throughout the ages, become a necessity. Such foods are capable of transporting us back in time and connecting us with loved ones in ways that may no longer be possible through other means. This okra stew, in particular, takes me back to my Palestinian grandmother’s Eastern Mediterranean kitchen. It had to be one of her favorite dishes as it is the one that I remember her making most often. The aroma of sautéed onion, garlic, and warm spices marrying together in what would become the base of her stew was most alluring. Next to her old-fashioned stove you would always find a pile of her handmade pita, which she made particularly to dip into her delicious concoction. It was culinary bliss.
While I have another recipe on this blog for okra stew, this one, which I have recently discovered through experimentation, resembles my grandmother Nema’s the most. Therefore, it is my new favorite. If you like your foods heavily spiced, feel free to add an additional 1/4 teaspoon or so of both all-spice and turmeric. Otherwise, this recipe is my favorite to date. That being said, this is a vegetarian recipe, but if you would like to make it meaty, add about 1 pound/ or 1/2 a kilo of minced meat to the stew (after adding the tomato sauce), simmer covered for 1 hour over low heat, then add the okra, and leave to cook for an additional 15-20 minutes. Serve with white rice or bread.
INGREDIENTS / SERVES 2
1 bag/ 400 gr./3 1/2 cups frozen okra, slightly thawed
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt, to your taste
freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion or 3 small shallots, finely chopped
generous pinch dried red chili flakes
1 large bay leaf
5 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground all-spice
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoky paprika
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 1/2 cups boiling (low-sodium) liquid vegetable stock or water
1. Panfry the okra in a skillet with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and a good grinding of black pepper over high heat for 10 minutes while stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat after it becomes golden and slightly bruised. Set aside.
2. In the meantime, sauté the onion, chili flakes, and bay leaf in a another pan with 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Cook for about 5-7 minutes or until the onion is soft and transparent. Add the garlic, all-spice, turmeric, cumin, and paprika and sauté for another 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, liquid stock (or water), okra, and season with salt and a good grinding of freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.
3. Garnish with fresh cilantro/parsley or both and serve with rice or bread. Enjoy!