The Deal with the Okra

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.



  1. by Tori @ The Shiksa in the Kitchen
    10:51 pm
    Jul 2, 2012

    I like okra! It does have a funny texture, though. This looks like a delicious preparation of it. :)

  2. by Mrs Ergül
    11:00 pm
    Jul 2, 2012

    I must try cooking this! For years we have been eating okra blanched and dipped in soy sauce! Thank you for sharing the recipe Ilke!

    I have butter fingers since young, can’t count how many things I have broken all my life!

  3. by Tuğba Tekeli
    4:28 am
    Jul 3, 2012

    Sevgili İlke;
    Yazılarını severek takip ediyorum. Bugünlerde bamya ile ilgili sohbetler ettiğimiz için bolca, tarifini ve fotoğraflarını görünce yazmak istedim. Ben hiç bamya seven biri olmadım. Görüntüsünü severim fakat iri olanlarını yiyemem, ufaklar böyle senin yaptığın gibi ve pilavla harika olur. Eşim de bamya çok sever:) Üçüncü fotoğraftaki tepsinin dokusu, ekmeğin görüntüsü ve tabağın deseniyle bamyanın birleşimi harika bir kare ortaya çıkarmış. Ellerine sağlık. Şu anda bamya bulabilseydim inan tarifinden yola çıkarak zevkle yapardım:)

  4. by Susan
    8:52 am
    Jul 3, 2012

    What a story! I can understand why you would have a aversion to okra for the rest of your life after that happened. I only had okra once long ago and I swore I would never eat it again. It was slimy and flavorless and not prepared in a home kitchen. If I can find baby okra like that at the farmers’ market this summer I will try your dish!

  5. by rebecca
    9:26 am
    Jul 3, 2012

    will try this one u know i love okra

  6. by kitchenriffs
    10:41 pm
    Jul 3, 2012

    Oh, pain!! That must have hurt. I like okra, though I know what you mean about that slimy deal – that can be a turn off. But such great flavor! Anyway really nice recipe – thanks.

  7. by thyme (Sarah)
    9:55 pm
    Jul 4, 2012

    Oh, I love okra…but my brothers wouldn’t touch it…still won’t probably. We eat it often in Louisiana. It is sliced and cooked over low heat for a long time with tomatoes and onion until it like a mash. BTW…I was just watching an A. Bourdain on utube…and he was eating okra in Istanbul!!

  8. by Elaine
    10:00 am
    Jul 5, 2012

    Hi, Ilke! I love okra, but agree it isn’t the most fun to work with. I’m glad you overcame your dislike of it (understandably so!) and have made peace with it. This looks like a great dish! I am bookmarking your recipe to try when I see okra at the market here. Thanks for sharing your grandmother’s tip for choosing okra. I do the same with zucchini and yellow squash. The smaller, the tastier!

  9. by Deb Harris
    10:02 am
    Jul 8, 2012

    Have to admit I don’t like the texture of okra or eggplant either. I also seem to burn myself a lot, usually trying to move or turn something without potholders but at least for me it’s just part of cooking. I love your site & enjoyed reading your story & seeing your pictures. The history under the streets of Turkey is incredible. I wondered if you have a subscription option on your site? I like knowing when there is a new blog post on my favorite sites, if not, I will just check back to keep up. I visited the South this year for the first time (my daughter is living in Georgia now) & we will be visiting a lot now so I’ll enjoy trying new southern & Turkish recipes.

  10. by Christin
    3:54 pm
    Jul 10, 2012

    What a story! I can’t imagine the pain and discomfort. I actually love okra and am always looking for new ways to cook it. And there aren’t a whole lot of different okra recipes out there. Your okra dish looks really yummy. Going to give it a try the next time I hit the farmers market.

  11. by hande
    2:48 am
    Jul 12, 2012

    Ilke cigim, kiymali pisirirken eger bamyayi kaynar suya atarsan sumugunu hic salmiyor. oyle dene bir kere de istersen. optum!

  12. by Ilke
    8:42 am
    Jul 12, 2012

    Tamam Handecigim, bir kere daha denerim.

  13. by Margaret A
    11:19 pm
    Oct 21, 2013

    This is a wonderful recipe. I made a few modifications because it is what I had. I added both the graded tomato (1.5 to 2 cups) and paste (2 tsp) along with a pinch of sugar to punch up the flavor. I also picked up some ottoman spice while on my trip to Istanbul and so I added a teaspoon of it to give it a kick. It was perfect. Thanks for the recipes.

  14. by Ilke
    7:45 am
    Oct 22, 2013

    Hi Margaret, that ottoman spice is a kick definitely. :) Glad you liked it. Thank you!

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