Growing up, there were only three dishes I would not come close to even trying: Okra, eggplants, and Tarhana soup. I don’t have any stories to back up my dislike for the soup, but okra and eggplant had weird texture for me. When cooked, that slimy and soft texture made me want to gag and somehow the way they lost their shape through cooking killed my respect for them. But as a teenager, I was probably being harsh and dramatic.After all, which vegetable does not lose some volume, if not all, through cooking?
Apart from that slimy feeling, okra actually hurt me one time. One day many many years ago, we were having lunch on the balcony in our summer house, and my mom told me to bring out the okra dish from the kitchen. This exact same dish here was in a big pot on the stove and bubbling hot. I grabbed the handles with oven mitts and thought I had it covered. Our balcony and kitchen were separated by a hanging sheer tulle at the door to prevent flies to come into the kitchen. As I was trying to move around the curtain and to open it with my elbows, something happened that made everyone at the table gasp and hold their breaths:
I dropped the pot on the floor.
Then I did something more incredible that made everyone at the table cringe:
I tried to save the pot.
As the bottom of the pot hit the floor, and as I made my move to catch the pot, the okra, ground beef, the juice – the whole nine yard- splashed several feet up and met with my face.
It burned like hell. And to make the story more gross, I could feel the grease even in my eyeballs.
Since I was a toddler, I have had a tendency to burn myself in many situations and I have many marks to prove that. Thankfully this did not leave any physical mark but just a stronger dislike for okra. It took lots of water to calm my skin, to clean my face and my hair and left a family behind craving about okra dish that day.
When I was buying okra, I did one thing that my grandmother would be proud: I picked the smaller ones. The smaller the better, at least in Turkey. So the okras to the right of this picture would be the ones left behind on the farmer’s stall. Eventhough okra made my skin itch like crazy, I paid that much respect to the dish and picked only the good looking, small stuff.
And I have made peace with this dish. Cooked and brought it to the table, this time carefully.
Okra with Ground Beef
- 1/2 to 3/4 lbs of ground beef (you can also use cubed chicken breast or stew meat or completely skip the meat)
- 1 lbs of okra
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion(thinly sliced in half moon shape)
- 1 cup of tomato juice, grated from fresh tomatoes (about 3)(or use several tablespoons of tomato paste)
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice plus juice from half a lemon
- 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (and more to taste if needed)
1. Peel the tips of the okra reserving its conical shape. put everything in a bowl, fill up with water and add 2 tablespoon lemon juice.
2. Heat olive oil in a heavy bottom pan on medium heat. Add onions, stir until they are translucent for several minutes.
3. Add ground beef, breaking up the big clumps, saute the beef until it loses its pink color.
4. Add drained okra, garlic, grated tomato, remaining lemon juice, salt, pepper and enough water to cover the contents of the pot.
5. Cover and bring the heat to high until it starts boiling.
6. Reduce the heat and simmer, add water as necessary during cooking.