In Swedish we say, “Ett kärt barn har många namn” translated it means “A beloved child has many names”. This is the case for one of my favorite vegetables to cook with, Okra. Okra, Okro, Bhindi, Lady Fingers, and finally in Arabic Bamya. It has as many names as it does recipes! Italians fry it with Garlic and a touch of white wine, in Turkey it is cooked in a simple tomato sauce, in Senegal it is used as a stew thickener and in a delicious dish called Soupakanja (which I will be making quite soon) and the list is endless. However, this is one of the ways I make it and the recipe can be found here.
The thing with Okra…you can’t just drop ’em like they are. They need a hair cut first. In Egypt we call it “penning” because once you are done peeling the top of the Okra, the top ends up looking like a lead pencil. This we do regardless of the size of the Okra…and its a pain to do so when they are tiny (note, the smaller the sweeter and softer the texture- the bigger the tougher the texture). Once you are done penning them and cutting them up they are good to go (if you cut them up, they also act as a nutritious stew thickener).
Once you have given the Bamya its haircut it needs a good perfumed bath before it served for the communal banquet. Trust me, it is aaaaall in that bath. And just like in any SPA the customer is so relaxed he/she starts to talk about its personal life and soon telling you all its secrets. Just like the Okra. There is nothing I love more than a dish that can occupy an entire day for its preparation, its like a majestic character that demands everyone’s attention. Many of the African, Asian, and Middle Eastern dishes that I intend to share are such dishes. Dishes that bring gather good friends over in good conversation and invites your creativity and your full presence in your body, your senses, and your hands. There is peeling, cutting, chopping, boiling, browning, and roasting and I love the sounds that come with some of those processes.
Lamb shoulder is one of my absolute favorite meats to cook with. Especially if you are to make a good meat broth. Lamb shoulder has the perfect trifecta of a golden, savory, and nutritious broth – bones, fat, and flesh. It makes you feel like you have golden twilight in a pot. I use this broth whenever I am cooking any meat based stew. I love this meat cooked and browned and for this particular stew I boil some of the meat and brown the rest.
This dish includes so many ingredients and processes, you need to be in the mood when you cook this dish but its also such a celebration. Once you have assembled all the processes, ingredients, and flavors in one pot it looks like a new years eve party!
It is the perfect blend of spicy, tangy, citrusy, and sweet. The tip of your fingers touch this lake of fire as you dip a chunk of bread into the stew and the first taste of it is like someone has painted the walls of your mouth into warm shades of burgundy, red, and orange. Your lips tingle a little bit because of the chili pepper as its heat spreads through you and envelops you into its embrace of tradition and history. How many fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, friends, and loved ones have not prepared this dish? under which occasions and celebrations? under a starry sky or a family kitchen? This is a dish I have prepared countless of times and every time I marvel at how the Okra calls on so many other ingredients to deck and commemorate it. Its really quite the royalty. Above all, I love the many nuances this stew has and I am still I am trying to discover them all. Each time, I discover every secret…one by one.