Bamia bil Laham

Lebanon and Egypt / Serves: 4

recipe

11th May 2012

Bucket_of_raw_okra_pods

Written by

Situated between the Cape Town’s wonderful V & A Waterfront and the picture perfect Clifton Beach sits Seapoint. Just a short stroll from the magnificent football stadium, it’s one of the city’s up and coming areas, hip new bars and restaurants popping up all the time, and filled with young professionals. Yet, unlike its more ordered neighbours, it still retains a slightly ramshackle appearance, reminding you that you are indeed in Africa, something that can be easy to forget in the Mother City. Located there, almost impossible to find, is a tiny restaurant called Cedars. Perched above a run down English language school, in a building which looks ready to implode, it’s run by David and his wife, a Lebanese couple who left Beirut during the Civil War. When I eventually found the entrance, I walked into what felt like someone’s sitting room rather than a restaurant, reminders of the couple’s heritage adorning the walls in a slightly dated and dingy manner.

The food, though, was magnificent and reflected the ethos of the place exactly. It was my first experience of true home-style Lebanese cooking. The menu is decided each day by what David feels like making which, when I went, was this wonderfully simple lamb and okra stew. Sitting on the balcony on a warm summer’s day, overlooking the ocean and surrounded by slightly jaded buildings, I could well have been back in Beirut. Thinking back to this experience on my recent trip to Lebanon, I asked our concierge where the best place to try this would be. Unfortunately her response of at her grandmother’s house didn’t come with an invitation, but it did serve to reflect the dichotomy which exists between restaurant and home cooking in the Middle East.

Like most home cooked Lebanese stews, the dish starts with onions and garlic being fried – is there a more glorious smell – before the other ingredients are added and it can be left to bubble away. A few hours later, the rich tomato sauce has thickened and intensified in taste, the lamb is just starting to fall apart and the okra (pictured), which is originally from West Africa but is now a staple in the region, has begun to lend that slightly odd but intriguing and unctuous, almost slimy, texture. Comforting, delicious and incredibly simple.       

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or thinly slice
  • Large knob of butter
  • 1tsp ground coriander
  • 1tsp ground cumin
  • 400g okra, storks removed
  • 500g lamb cubes
  • 1 x 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt and pepper

Method

Gently fry the onions and the garlic in the butter until soft, just starting to colour and the garlic has started to mellow. Add the ground spices and continue to cook for a couple more minutes. Turn the heat up slightly, add the meat and brown on all sides, then add the okra and, a few minutes later, add the rest of the ingredients.

Top up the stew with enough water to cover, or some lamb stock, bring to the boil and then reduce to a very low simmer, partially cover and leave for a couple of hours, until the lamb has become meltingly tender and check for seasoning. 

 

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